As I type, the next Shuttle mission is STS-119, scheduled for launch on February 12th, 2009. The crew of Space Shuttle Discovery will deliver the final component of the International Space Station’s solar arrays, boosting power output from the solar panels to ensure the ISS can power all the facilities for space station crew expansion later this year.
As we are fast approaching the final handful of Shuttle launches before the whole fleet (Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour) is retired in 2010, each and every launch will draw a lot of attention. When a shuttle launch is under way however, it is always nice to track the shuttle from Cape Canaveral until it reaches its final destination (in the case of STS-119, it will be the ISS. In May, the STS-125 Hubble Servicing Mission will dock with the orbiting telescope). For astronomers and observers, if you want to have the chance to spot the orbiting craft from the ground, you’ll need to track the spaceship to see if it is going to orbit over your location.
So, in preparation for STS-119 (and the rest of the Shuttle launches), here’s some useful tracking resources I use on a regular basis:
- Viewing tips for the shuttle missions and International Space Station (NASA Spaceflight)
- NASA’s Skywatch 2.0 online tracking tool (requires Java to be installed on your browser)
- NASA Spaceflight Homepage
- CalSKY (Celestial Observer) online tracker (a very powerful online tool)
- NASA J-Track (real-time data for all missions)
- Real-time satellite, ISS, Space Shuttle tracker (N2YO.com)
- Orbiting Frog’s Google Earth satellite tracker KMZ plugin (very useful if you have Google Earth installed)