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 launched into space on Wednesday (Sept. 15), carrying the Inspiration4 mission on a three-day orbital trip. It is currently traveling around Earth in a nearly circular orbit up to 367 miles (590 kilometers) above our planet, according to SpaceX, and completes an orbit about every hour and a half.
If you look outside at the right time, you may be able to spot the spacecraft passing overhead in the night sky — no telescopes or binoculars necessary!
According to the skywatching site Heavens Above, the Crew Dragon has a maximum magnitude (a measure of brightness) of about 1.6, making it about as bright as the star Shaula, which marks the “stinger” of the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion. However, the Dragon’s brightness also depends on where it is in its orbit, and how much of the spacecraft’s Earth-facing side is illuminated by sunlight.
Heavens Above has provided a free tracking tool that allows anyone to find out exactly when the Inspiration4 Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is named “Resilience,” will pass overhead. Just enter your location, and the tracking tool will provide the exact timing of the next overhead passes, as well as information about the capsule’s current magnitude and directions for where to look.
Another useful website for tracking Crew Dragon is N2YO.com. This site will automatically use your geographical coordinates to show you when Inspiration4 will make its next overhead pass, and you can see a live map showing the spacecraft’s current location.
For what it’s worth, SpaceX has also provided a live animated view of Resilience’s position at spacex.com/launches. While this interactive globe is fun to play with, SpaceX’s website doesn’t offer any useful skywatching information otherwise.
Although Resilience may be visible to the naked eye with clear skies, binoculars or a telescope can still give you a better view. For a comparison, check out this long-exposure photograph of Inspiration4 taken by Marco Langbroek in The Netherlands on Sept. 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 pass was rather low in the sky, 25 degrees maximum elevation,” Langbroek told Space.com in an email. “I first picked it up in binoculars, then switched to naked eye. It was rather faint (due to the light-polluted sky) but visible, and about magnitude +3.”
The Crew Dragon @Inspiration4x passing over the domes of the Old Leiden Observatory (#Leiden town center, the Netherlands) this evening. Taken from the Witte Singel.Stack of 37 images of 1 second each (spaced by 1 second), Canon EOS 80D, EF 2.5/50 mm, ISO 800. pic.twitter.com/nhlYoJE7uZSeptember 16, 2021
Resilience is scheduled to return to Earth late Saturday (Sept. 18), and it will splash down somewhere off the coast of Florida, either in the Gulf of Mexico or on the Atlantic coast.