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Would Imaging A Starship From Orbit Via A Telescope Be Possible?


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Not sure if anyone has asked this before, but while viewing images taken of the ISS and Tiangong Space Station via ground based telescopes, I have this interesting question. Would imaging a starship currently in orbit around earth via a ground based telescope be possible? And if so, how bright of a magnitude and how large might it possibly look in an image? I'm also asking this because it seems that the first orbital flight test will probably end up happening before the end of the year and I'm sure there would be some people out there possibly interested in imaging it from orbit during the flight if they can and it's visible. You can view the images I was talking about at the beginning of this post by clicking on the links above. Hoping someone has a good answer to my question!

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In theory it's definitely possible, but what you can see with this telescope thing probably depends more on how much money you have available for what equipment, and how light polluted the location you're photographing is.

Such as this one. And that guy just wrote a program by himself for automatic tracking.

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The initial orbital flights will also be much lower than the ISS and Tiangong likely, so you may even have a higher resolution imaging Starship than those. It needs someone who knows the orbital inclination and is ready to take a pic, but other than that it will probably happen in the second or third flight

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11 hours ago, Johnster_Space_Program said:

Not sure if anyone has asked this before, but while viewing images taken of the ISS and Tiangong Space Station via ground based telescopes, I have this interesting question. Would imaging a starship currently in orbit around earth via a ground based telescope be possible? And if so, how bright of a magnitude and how large might it possibly look in an image? I'm also asking this because it seems that the first orbital flight test will probably end up happening before the end of the year and I'm sure there would be some people out there possibly interested in imaging it from orbit during the flight if they can and it's visible. You can view the images I was talking about at the beginning of this post by clicking on the links above. Hoping someone has a good answer to my question!

As the various images you mention show, this is easily possible for the versed skygazers. Resolution/size of the image depend on the telescope, but much more than those images is hard to achieve.

Brightness is not the issue here for objects that are in the sun, but the shear speed with which LEO objects cross the sky. One really must know their orbital parameters to aim to when and where they rise above the local horizon, and have an extremely fast and perfectly set up mount to catch up with their angular speed.

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Thanks to the great responses everyone has given so far! As for the telescope I was thinking of possibly using for viewing and imaging it, I have a public observatory nearby that uses a 16″ Meade Schmidt Cassegrain telescope (Model LX200) on an equatorial mount for their primary instrument and a 5″ Meade refractor telescope (Model LXD75) as a secondary instrument. How well/high of a resolution might it be possible to get with those kind of telescopes, and how hard might it be to do imaging with them? (since the starship would be moving fast across the sky, I am not sure if those telescopes would be able to move fast enough to keep it roughly centered in the view or not).

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Edit: Sorry, traverse the globe at 4° per minute. The rate of change to an observer on the surface would be much greater.

At 400km altitude that would be a ratio of 6771km to 400km, roughly 17:1. So roughly 68°per minute, or just over 1.1deg/second.

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On 6/17/2022 at 11:40 PM, Johnster_Space_Program said:

Not sure if anyone has asked this before, but while viewing images taken of the ISS and Tiangong Space Station via ground based telescopes, I have this interesting question. Would imaging a starship currently in orbit around earth via a ground based telescope be possible? And if so, how bright of a magnitude and how large might it possibly look in an image? I'm also asking this because it seems that the first orbital flight test will probably end up happening before the end of the year and I'm sure there would be some people out there possibly interested in imaging it from orbit during the flight if they can and it's visible. You can view the images I was talking about at the beginning of this post by clicking on the links above. Hoping someone has a good answer to my question!

Sometime in the 90s I spotted the ISS while the Shuttle was docked to it.  I was in the Southern Arizona desert and it was a very bright, fast moving dot that I tried to resolve with binoculars... But it was so jumpy that it wasn't worth it. 

I recently commented on a picture of (a Falcon or some other rocket) stage separation taken from a ground source - so I know it's possible.  However if I recall correctly, the image was shot by Uber-professional gear in a dedicated gimbal (practically military hardware). 

I suspect that there are high end gimballing trackers in the Enthusiast ($$$) end of the amateur astronomy world that could be used to allow you to resolve SS with a commercial scope - but satellites cross so fast I'd think you would have to use a camera to get pictures (I. E. I doubt you could eyeball it) 

Edited by JoeSchmuckatelli
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High end equipment (>10k euro/$) is not necessary to image the ISS in reasonable resolution, with the solar panels and tubing clearly distinguishable, atmospheric conditions permitting. Skill and patience is needed above all, and multiple tries, and then the thing doesn't allways pass at convenient times.

Some show off their images and setups, e.g. on youtube. The mentioned parts are in the 3-4keuro range.

Starship is somewhat smaller, but just a featureless blob anyway.

Edited by Pixophir
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Has seen the IIS the in the US with mark one eyeball. it looked H shaped. I assume the shuttle did and starship will not be just moving dots more so in with an dark sky, I saw IIS in Chicago. 

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Posted (edited)

Also, can anyone possibly make a simulated image of how big a starship would like in the view of a telescope, using this animated gif as a size reference? Also note that in the gif's description (link to it is below), the photographer says...

Quote

How big is a Starlink satellite? Apparent diameter is used to determine the size of a celestial body or object in the sky. This does not show the real size of these objects, but rather the space they occupy in the sky. Moon is about half a degree, that is, approx. 30 arcminutes (approximately 1800 arcseconds). To put this into context, the apparent diameter of the International Space Station (ISS) (if it is just above our head and therefore as close to us as possible) is approx. 60 arcseconds. It is a common practice in astrophotography to photograph different objects with the same equipment so that we can make an apparent size comparison.

Szabolcs-Nagy-Starlink-ISS-animation-comparison_1646292232.gif

Link to image: https://spaceweathergallery.com/indiv_upload.php?upload_id=182753.

The photographer also posted this related video, which you can view below. The part of the video showing the Starlink satellite from the view of a telescope (like in the gif above) is from 2:20 to 2:35. Credit to Space Station Guys.

 

Edited by Johnster_Space_Program
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Hi,

note that angular size in the sky and size on the sensor are different things and resolution of an image is yet another thing. All must be calculated for good results, to check if a given equipment/setup lives up to the expectations. Don't get me wrong, as said, it is well possible for the somewhat experienced and aspirign, but not an trivial goal.

You mentioned an observatory in your vicinity,  sure they can explain things. The forum at cloudynights.com is a very good resource for all things atrophotography.

If you want to get into that, don't bother with hunting artifical satellites in the beginning, observe visually, try images of the moon first, the big planets Saturn and Jupiter are also nice and the chances of success much higher. For deep sky, objects like Andromeda galaxy, the Plejades or the Orion nebula can nicely be imaged but need specific equipment due to their sizes (field of view, correction of errors of the telecope's optics play a role then, and fit of the sensor), before hunting such evasive objects as the ISS.

Edited by Pixophir
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