How to watch the space station and cargo ship play hide-and-seek

ATV-5 (George Lemaitre) will dock with the ISS using a sophisticated laser system on August 12. Between now and then you can watch it track along with the space station in both the morning and evening sky. Credit: European Space Agency (ESA)

The Georges Lemaitre cargo ship successfully launched on a 14-day journey to the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday. Starting tomorrow morning you can watch it chase the space station around the sky for the next two weeks.

The ship is Europe’s fifth and final automated transfer vehicle (ATV-5) for hauling materials to the station. It’s also the heaviest craft ever launched by the European Space Agency and has the biggest cargo space.

ATV-3 docking animation created from 70 hi res ATV-3 images. NASA/ESA

The ship will transport 1,257 pounds (570 kg) of water, 220 pounds (100 kg) of gas (air and oxygen), 4,916 pounds (2,230 kg) of propellants to use for ISS reboosts, additional propellant for the Russian portion of the space station, science equipment and food.

After the astronauts unload all the goodies, the ship will be filled with trash and sent back to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. A special infrared camera inside the craft will take pictures of the burning hull during the fiery reentry and send them to a waiting satellite for re-transmission to Earth.

While the agency will wrap up its supply trips to the ISS, it’s will re-purpose the ATV service module to participate in NASA’s Orion mission, which will ultimately send astronaut crews to the moon, Mars and asteroids.

The International Space Station is currently making passes over the U.S. and Canada during early morning twilight. This map, taken from Heavens Above, shows its path across the sky tomorrow morning July 31 from the Duluth, Minn. region. Starting August 2, the ISS will also appear in the evening sky. Source: Chris Peat/Heavens Above

Because ATV-5 will take its time arriving at the space station, we’ll have lots of chances to see it ‘chasing’ the ISS around the sky. For my region (Duluth, Minn.) for instance, the station glides from west to east across the sky between 4:18 – 4:25 a.m. tomorrow following a nearly identical path.

ATV-5 shows up in the sky about 5 minutes after the space station bows out tomorrow morning. It will shine at magnitude 0.7, the same as a bright star but not nearly the brilliance of the much larger ISS. Source: Chris Peat/Heavens-Above

Five minutes later, Georges Lemaitre’s namesake zips by at 4:30 a.m. Although the ISS and ATV-5 lie at opposite sides of the sky right now, as docking time draws near on August 12, they’ll be neck in neck – a very cool sight!

ATV-4 passes over the W of Cassiopeia in this time exposure taken on June 8, 2013. The ATVs range in brightness from magnitude 0 (brightest) to 3. Credit: Bob King

Good news too for those who don’t like getting up at dawn. Both ships will begin making convenient evening passes starting this Saturday August 2 and continuing through late August.

To find out where and when to look to track both the ISS and ATV-5, go to Heavens-Above, sign in and select the ISS and ATV-5 links under Satellites. You’ll next be shown a table with times, brightness, directions, etc. for a series of dates. Click on the date of your choice to get a map of the sky showing the object’s path. What could be easier?

Georges Lemaitre was a Belgium Catholic priest, physicist and astronomer. In 1927 he discovered that Einstein’s equations implied an expanding universe. Credit: Wiki

I like that ESA has named the ATV series after famous scientists and a science fiction writer. It gives the machines a little personality. It started with ‘Jules Verne’ (ATV-1), then Johannes Kepler (ATV-2), Edoardo Amaldi (ATV-3), Albert Einstein (ATV-4) and finally Georges Lemaitre (ATV-5).

Lemaitre originated the whole idea of the Big Bang. He argued that if the galaxies were receding into the distance in an expanding universe, they must once have been scrunched together in one unimaginably tiny space he called the ‘primeval atom’ or ‘cosmic egg’.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

2 thoughts on “How to watch the space station and cargo ship play hide-and-seek

  1. Do you have a schedule when ISS and ATV-5 will be visible in the northern Minnesota area? Was not able to find it on your web site.

    Thanks you for your help, Jim Wilcox, Ely, MN

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