Satellite Viewing Equipment


Here is the equipment I use to record satellite passes. The setup is fairly quick. I can get everything outside and connected in less than 10 minutes.

The core of the setup is the low light video camera and the lens. The camera, lens, and Dobsonian mount are carried around as a permanent unit. The video camera is very sensitive, 0.00003 lux. It can do onboard frame integration to increase sensitivity but the camera sensitivity is so great that integration is not feasible with my fast lens.  I always use real time video mode.

The lens pictured is an 10mm - 250mm f/1.5 zoom lens. This lens was purchased for its speed (fov), but now I wouldn't want to do without the zoom feature. I can find my way around the sky much quicker by zooming out, orient to the region of sky where I expect the next satellite to appear, and then zoom in to the exact area and pick up the passing satellite. Entire constellations are visible at 10mm and at 250mm I have about 1.5 degrees field of view. I usually zoom in to about 3 degrees fov where I can see down to 11.5 mag. Tracking by hand is no problem, even through the zenith.



The Blackboxcamera video overlay unit, the Garmin 16 GPS, and all associated cords are carried in a plastic equipment box. This really simplifies the setup process. An auxiliary benefit is dew protection as the GPS can see through the closed plastic lid.  Although this time inserter is no longer available, there are newer options, such as the Kiwi time inserter.


The camera is connected to the time inserter. The Time inserter is connected to the DVD recorder, and the DVD recorder is connected to the monitor. I point the camera and follow the satellite pass by watching the monitor.

The DVD recorder has an internal hard drive. I record directly to the hard drive and then delete the recording when I am finished measuring the pass positions.

Here is a photo of ALL my equipment including my assistant observer running Heavensat on the laptop to help locate the next pass opportunity. The primary observer is taking the photo.  I have a homemade dew shield/light guard extension on the lens box.

When the satellites quit coming, we break down the equipment and bring it all inside. The DVD recorder and monitor are hooked up next to the computer with ObsReduce running. I can then step through each pass and precisely measure satellite locations with calipers (if measurements are required). Exact times are read right off the monitor and ObsReduce does the rest. I used to calculate the distance ratios with a calculator, but the entire operation is much simpler since Ted updated ObsReduce to do all the work with the "length" option.



This system is as far as I can go with current technology.  Now I need to improve the skill level of the operator!  The pictured calipers and calculator are no longer required for satellite reductions as I can see so many guide stars that I normally don't have to measure positions....I just take the nearest appulse at 30 to 60 second intervals!

For deep satellites, geos, heos and Molnyia, I use a CPC 1100 GPS telescope with a Starizona Hyperstar focal reducer at prime focus and a QHY8 camera.

Here is the business end.  The QHY8 camera obscures only slightly more that the secondary mirror bracket which has been replaced by the Hyperstar lens assembly.  The dew shield is permanent to protect the camera and corrector plate.

Typical exposures.  Here is a 5s exposure of Vortex 2 tracking on the background stars.

This is a 20s exposure tracking the satellite.