Monday, 4 July 2016

Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) - Chinese Space Station

Tiangong-1 (Wikipedia)

Tiangong-1 (literally: "Heavenly Palace 1") is China's first space station, serving as both a manned laboratory and an experimental testbed to demonstrate orbital rendezvous and docking capabilities. Launched unmanned aboard a Long March 2F/G rocket on 29 September 2011, it is the first operational component of the Tiangong program, which aims to place a larger, modular station into orbit by 2023. As of September 2011, Tiangong-1 was projected to be deorbited in 2013 and replaced over the following decade by the larger Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 modules. However, Tiangong-1 remains in orbit as of 2016. (source "Wikipedia")

In my entire life I have seen this very space station 
only three times. Once in January during my visit to Gran Canaria. Unfortunately I didn't have my imaging equipment with me on that morning, so I saw it only visually. Sadly that was the end of the visible passes from that location....
Few days ago I realized Tiangong-1 will be visible from UK for a few days, will be at it's brightest on the 1st and 2nd of July. From my two attempts the first was a success, second a total failure...

I have used website this time to find out the when, where from and the brightness details.
The screenshot on the left gave me the basic reference points. My idea was to somehow capture it close to Mars, most ideal case transiting Mars (on the 2nd of July). But the experience I have gained during the 1st of July attempt made me change plans.

The Chinese Space Station is a difficult target after all. It only came as high as 16 degrees above the horizon, which means by the time I could image it due tree obstruction in front of my balcony, the distance between me and the station was around 1100-1250 km. The ISS would look smaller too at this distance, so being aware of this I used a radical equipment - SW 127 mak + TeleVue 2.5x powermate + ASI 120MC. This was a powerful setup, giving me a whopping 3750 mm of focal lenght.

That could have been pretty promising, but difficulties did not end here. Based on my experience on planetary imaging I was aware, the powermate will limit me a lot as it allows less amount of light to hit my camera's sensor than without. Adding this to the fact, that Tiangong brightened up only at a value of mag +3.0 which is very very faint
to ISS ( good overhead passes are between mag -1.0 and mag -3.9).

My photo of Tiangong-1

I remember watcing back the footage I shot was an unpleasant feeling, because the station acted like a bright chewing gum on my screen. The problem lied in the settings, I guess video settings were quite underexposed.  I did not have much faith, nearly deleted the footage straight away.

Luckily I didn't :)

After going through every single frame - I have found ONE single frame which showed me something only in my wildest dreams I dreamt of. I know it might be slightly squashed - mainly due poor seeing (wild jet stream at the moment) and the vast distance, especially the solar panels look squashes a bit.

But hey, it's definitely there, the main body structure with the two solar panels on the sides.

Already much much more that I have previously expected :P