The first and most essential step in observing spacecraft
is obviously to know when and where to look. There are
now many satellite tracking programs, both online
and offline, that can give
you the sky coordinates for a given object at a given
time and location.
The easiest way to get started perhaps is to
use the Heavens Above online
program to find the time and coordinates of satellites
that are passing over your location tonight.
Remember to bookmark the prediction page that
is returned after you submit your location information.
The bookmark holds your location so that the next time
that you click on this bookmark, you will get the satellite
visibility page already setup for you.
As you get more involved in satellite observing, you
probably will want to use one of the offline
tracking programs, many of which are freeware. Many
of these provide star charting as well and thus can
lead you into general astronomy.
supports a Twitter
service that tweets you when the ISS is going to fly
over your location. Follow the Twisst
account to get the notices. It uses your Twitter
account profile information to determine your location.
Run in your browser the Satellite
Tracking Tool provided to HobbySpace
The program allows you to track a large set of satellites
in low earth and geostationary orbits.
(Note: the program requires Microsoft
Silverlight, version 5 or higher, as well as the
latest version of your preferred browser. Currently
the program works on the Microsoft® Windows® platform
The program also presents satellites in a choice of
Use the program's interactive controls to obtain data
on satellites, to predict their orbits, and more.
This user friendly site allows you to find out what spacecraft
will be passing over your location for a given period.
Enter your location and then for a given spacecraft, e.g.
the ISS, you can bookmark the prediction page to find
out the upcoming passes over your position.
This web site is devoted to amateur observations of
satellites. Lots of info on everything related to seeing
spacecraft passing overhead.
- the mailing list for visual satellite observers.
Many of the most advanced amateur observers participate
in this group.
Data Association: "an international organisation
formed in 2009 dedicated to safe and responsible satellite
operations, including the prevention of collisions
in space and improving satellite communications."
Naked-eye astronomy and satellite viewing. Based on
the PBS series.
built satellites consist of a small globes covered
with mirrors (like a disco ball). The mirrors are
polished by students around the world. Students track
the satellites during the period they are in orbit
and record their observations online. Eventually the
orbit decays due to friction with the atmosphere.
The student data give information on the atmosphere
and the solar heating. This site provides nformation
on how to track the satellite:
Originally designed to support the NASA Discovery
mission Deep Impact, this site provides info on
how to track "asteroids Vesta and Ceres in
support of the NASA Discovery mission Dawn and
comet Hartley 2 in support of EPOXI"
Aerospace launched its first inflatable space habitat
prototype module - called Genesis-1 - on July 12, 2006.
Several more modules will follow it to orbit in the
coming years. Here are some resources on tracking and
observing these modules.
Genesis-1 has been labeled object 29252 by the U.S.
Space Command. It has the nternational Designation Code
of 2006-029-A. The module follows a 345 x 349 mile (555
x 561 kilometer) orbit and is at a 64.5 degree inclination.
Photos of spacecraft in low earth orbit
with amateur level telescopes (e.g. 12" Schmidt-Cassegrain)
have been made that provide enough detail to make out
features of the Mir space station and space shuttles.
Amateur astronomers can now follow the
progress of construction on the International
Space Station, which is already one of the brightest
objects in the nightsky.
Ron Dantowitz took the Mir image shown
at top. His Mir images and shuttle images were taken
from nearly 400km during the daytime with a 12" Schmidt-Cassegrain
telescope on a Meridian
Image of the Mir space station taken by Ron Dantowitz
daytime on the ground with a 12" Schmidt-Cassegrain
on a Meridian Archimage mount.
Image of the Atlantis space shuttle taken in 1996
by Ron Dantowitz
Legault, amateur astrophotographer extraordinaire,
image of the ISS and Shuttle Discovery on February
28, 2011 that shows astronaut Steve Bowen during an
EVA. This is believed the first confirmed image taken
from the ground of an astronaut in orbit:
"...Meridian's proprietary astronomy and satellite
tracking mounts are so advanced that you can view
and photograph the Space Shuttle, Mir, and other satellites
in orbit- even during the daytime. See the solar panels
and modules of Mir before it burns up in the atmosphere.
Or watch up close as astronauts build the International
Space Station in orbit. Shuttle dockings, spacewalks,
Russian spy satellites and burned-out rocket stages
are now easily visible at the push of a button."
This simulator from Philip
Masding, who with Mike Tyrrell have made many ISS
& Mir images, displays the orientation of the station
as it orbits. This can be very useful in understanding
what is seen in the typically blurry images of the ISS.
The Iridium communications constellation
consists of 72 or so satellites built and controlled
by the Iridium
consortium led by Motorola. The initial constellation
was completed in May 1998.
satellite. The flares occur when sunlight reflects off
the Main Antenna.
When these satellites pass overhead they
can give a bright flash, or flare, when seen
at just the right position with respect to the satellite
and the sun. This is caused by reflections off the main
antennas, not the solar panels.
There are now several web sites devoted
to this phenomena, which can be very striking. The sites
give information on finding where and when the flares
can be seen from a given location.
Visual Satellite Observer provides lots of info on seeing
Iridium flares as well as other satellites. They provide
a page of Iridium
Flare Photos and also a list of programs
for predicting the time and brightness of flares over
Heavens Above, formerly at the German Space Observatory
Center, also provides Iridium Flare predictions for your
location: e.g. for the next
24 hours. Remember to first enter your location data
and then bookmark the resulting satellite visibility page.
The Astronomical Applications Department of the U.S.
Naval Observatory provides this site of tables and
programs to provide such information as times of Sunrise,
Sunset, Moonrise, Moonset, and Twilight; Moon Illumination;
Eclipses; Positions of the Sun and Moon; Data for
Major Solar System Bodies and Bright Stars (see MICA
- Multi-Year Interactive Computer Almanac); and dates
of interest (e.g. Equinoxes, Solstices, etc.).
Easy to run online Java program from Omar Reis that
displays the stars over your city or current location
Obtain your latitude/longitude of your house from
your U.S. zip code.
Your GPS navigator will provide you with your current
latitude-longitude to very high accuracy.
Sun & Moon
of the Moon
Were you born under a full moon? Will your next camping
trip have a moonless sky to see the stars at their
brightest? Use this program from the US Navy to see
the phase of the moon for any day between 1800-2199
Moon & Earth Applet
Cool online applet from Juergen
Giesen that displays a mapping of the current
position of the sun and moon with respect to the earch's
surface Also, shows the height in degrees above the
horizon vs time of day of the earth and moon for a
given location on earth.
A program started in the 1950s to enlist the help of
amateur astronomers to observe and monitor artificial
satellites. Initiated by famousof Harvard astronomer
Fred L. Whipple, it eventually involved thousands of
participants. They were quite important in tracking
the first satellites before special full time tracking
stations were set up by late in the decade.
(previously GSOC Satellite Predictions)
Online Program at German Space Observation Centre is an excellent and easy
to use source to obtain the latest information on satellites passing over
your location tonight. After providing the program with your location for
the first time, you should bookmark the page. The bookmark will then include
your location so that clicking on the bookmark will automatically give the
satellite data for your position.
This company builds "state-of-the-art Satellite Telemetry Monitoring &
Commanding Systems (TM/TC)". Their SatView™ package has been used for
many space projects including Artemis, MARECS-A, ITALSAT-2, etc.
They now offer a real-time satellite tracking plug-in based on
Microsoft® Silverlight® 4 that you can check it out for free here.
With an easy to use drag-and-drop interface, you select from a big library
of spacecraft to track their current locations and to obtain future orbits.
They write, It has been developed solely for 'space enthusiasts' and is
not intended for use by professionals.They are asking for input on the
program including suggestions for what orbit prediction services they
CelesTrak - T. S. Kelso's
two line element online resources.
Comsoft sells telescope control and satellite tracking software.
Bester offers Unix software for Satellite Orbit Analysis and Tracking, Global
Positioning System, and Astrodynamics Applications.
Stephen M. Schimpf offers this shareware planetarium program for Windows
CyberSky is an accurate, yet easy-to-use planetarium program that provides
an excellent way to learn about astronomy and explore the sky visible
in the distant past, the present, and the far-off future. CyberSky can
display and print attractive, highly-customizable maps of the sky as
seen from your home, your favorite vacation spot, or any other location
on the Earth. The program’s clean, user-friendly interface makes it
easy to identify the objects you see in the sky and find the objects
you want to see.
".. casual skywatchers to seasoned amateur astronomers ... Distant
Suns is compatible with Windows 95,98, ME, NT and 2000, and Macintosh.
With Distant Suns you may view the sky at the time of your birth, watch
the sun set behind Saturn, land on Mars and follow newly discovered
Other features include : Different astronomical stories and tutorials
for each night of the year. Create your own "space movies". Print out
star charts. In depth information of each star and planet. Over 16 million
stars.-Event Alert system will warn you of any upcoming eclipses and meteor
FlyOver by Tom Sylvestor predicts satellite flyovers for virtually any place
on earth. It has scaleable map graphics and custom printouts. Downloading
current data and current tracking is free, but observer location selection
requires a registration fee.
1.5 This powerful tracking program is offered by Amsat and proceeds
from its purchase goes toward supporting Amsat projects.
(Shareware) - "Displays real time information and graphics about
the moon (or for a selected date). Contains many charts and diagrams,
predicts eclipses, produces a range of printouts."
Pro (Commercial) - "More comprehensive that LunarPhase V2.62;
includes a Lunar Explorer screen which allows the identification of
lunar features from dropdown lists or by clicking on a map of the moon;
maps of near and far side features as well as polar regions included;
Orthographic and Mercator maps can be viewed and printed; calculates,
displays and and animate libration effects; includes database of lunar
JupSat- "Displays the positions of Jupiter's satellites in real time
(or for a selected date). Also calculates Great Red Spot Transit times
and displays satellite track diagrams. Full details can be found at:
This application is freeware." - Gary Nugent
- A Satellite Tracking/Orbital Prediction Program
This program is "an open-source, multi-user satellite tracking and
orbital prediction program written under the Linux operating system by
John A. Magliacane, KD2BD. PREDICT is free software. Users may redistribute
it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License
as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 2 of the
License or any later version."
Available for Linux/Unix and for DOS under Windows.
Satellite constellation visualisation program from Univ.of Minnesota
Hughes Aerospace, for example, used it to plan the maneuvers of a communications
satellite, which was placed in a useless orbit by a fualty launcher, to
do lunar swingbys to put it into a viable orbit.
This program once cost several thousand dollars. Surprisingly, though,
it has been made available now as freeware. The company says it makes
money by selling sophisticated add-ons for particular applications.
Software Inc. - Starry Night
Full featured astronomy program with over 19 million celestial objects.
Includes satellite tracking and addition of new satellites. Can control
A planetarium and star-charting program for Microsoft Windows 95/98 and
Windows NT4. "Written by astronomers, for astronomers." InfoDemo