How to see SpaceX’s Inspiration4 spacecraft in the night sky


Amateur satellite tracker Marco Langbroek captured this view of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience passing over the Old Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands on September 16, 2021. It is a stack of 37 one-second exposures, each captured at 1-second intervals. (Image credit: courtesy Marco Langbroek)

Four private astronauts are currently circling the globe in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, and you can see the capsule from Earth – if you’re in the right place at the right time.

The Crew Dragon was launched into space on Wednesday September 15, carrying the Inspiration4 mission on a three-day orbital journey. It currently travels around the Earth in an almost circular orbit up to 367 miles (590 kilometers) above our planet, according to SpaceX, and performs an orbit approximately every hour and a half.

If you look outside at the right time, you may be able to spot the spaceship fly overhead in the night sky – no telescope or binoculars needed!

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According to the sky-viewing site Heavens Above, the Crew Dragon has a maximum magnitude (a measure of brightness) of around 1.6, which makes it about as bright as the star Shaula, which marks the “Stinger” of the constellation Scorpio, the scorpion. However, the Dragon’s brightness also depends on where it is in its orbit and the amount of sunlight illuminated by the earth’s face of the spacecraft.

Heavens Above has provided a free tracker that lets anyone know exactly when the Inspiration4 Crew Dragon spacecraft, named “Resilience”, will pass overhead. Simply enter your location and the tracker will provide the exact timing of the next air passes, along with information on the capsule’s current magnitude and directions for where to look.

Another useful website for following Crew Dragon is N2YO.com. This site will automatically use your geographic coordinates to show you when Inspiration4 performs its next flypast, and you will be able to see a live map showing the current location of the spacecraft.

SpaceX has a live Crew Dragon tracker on their website for the Inspiration4 mission.

SpaceX has a live Crew Dragon tracker on their website for the Inspiration4 mission. (Image credit: SpaceX)

For what it’s worth, SpaceX also provided a live animated view of Resilience’s position at spacex.com/launches. While this interactive globe is fun to play, SpaceX’s website does not otherwise offer any useful sky-viewing information.

While resilience can be seen with the naked eye with a clear sky, binoculars or a telescope can still give you a better view. For a comparison, see this long exposure photograph by Inspiration4 taken by Marco Langbroek in the Netherlands on September 16. That same night, Langbroek used a telescope to record a video of Resilience passing overhead.

“I was observing from the center of Leiden, with a lot of light pollution, and the spacecraft’s passage was rather low in the sky, at 25 degrees maximum altitude,” Langbroek told Space.com in an email . “I first picked it up in binoculars, then I looked at it with the naked eye. It was rather faint (due to the sky polluted with light) but visible, and about a magnitude of + 3. “

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Resilience is expected to return to Earth late Saturday (September 18) and it will strike down somewhere off the coast of Florida, either in the Gulf of Mexico or on the Atlantic coast.

Email Hanneke Weitering at [email protected] or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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