ISS & Shuttle Question - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

ISS & Shuttle Question

Question:
Last night, just as you said when the Orbiter came from the West, I saw it very clearly. There was an object following it, can you tell me what this was? Also, when you face the East by Southeast, about 2:00 o'clock position, is the bright reflection the space station?

Answer:

When you saw the International Space Station (ISS) flying overhead earlier this month, the second object (smaller, not as bright) was the NASA Space Shuttle, which had been docked to the ISS the day before!  The Shuttle was to land in Florida the next day, if I remember correctly.

Neither the ISS nor the shuttle will ever be "still" in the sky.  Both orbit too closely to the Earth, so the only way that they can "fight" the force of gravity is to orbit very quickly.  For example, "geo-stationary" satellites (sats that sit over the exact same position on the Earth all the time (like communications, TV and weather satellites) are typically 20-25,000 miles out in space!

Compare that to the ISS ... it's altitude averages only about 200-270 miles above the Earth.  The ISS travels at something like 17000 mph, a rate that means it orbits the Earth about 15-16 times every day!  But the orbital path is ever-changing, so we don't often get such a great look like we did that night -- not to mention that Mother Nature cooperated by delivering crystal-clear skies -- and the time of day (around 6:20PM), so that the Sun was at an angle to brightly light both objects!  All the elements came together for a perfect sky show!

Jay Grymes
Chief Meteorologist
WAFB Storm Team

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