Friday, June 6, 2014

The International Space Station's #SpotTheStation Project is Out of this World!

The ISS makes two passes over Hollister California in this series of long exposure images by Photographer George Krieger.

Did you know that The International Space Station orbits our planet every 90 minutes or so and can usually be seen with the naked eye several times a week from most areas of the world?  It is so bright and visible at times that it can be imaged with a long exposure by even consumer level cameras. Using a full frame DSLR and a shutter release enables you to take many exposures in a row easily. By using imaging software one can create an artistic rendition of many images taken over a long period of time into one image like the one above.

A few months ago I was asked if I wanted to participate in a project to take long exposures of the International Space Station when the next crew was aboard in late May.  It sounded like a tough challenge and a creative joy to do an image like that so I agreed with enthusiasm and little thought as to how hard it might be.  As the time for this project neared I did a little research on the ISS.  It travels at around 17,500 MPH in a low orbit ranging approximately 260 miles altitude above sea level. The ISS orbital path is visible from 95% of the inhabited land on earth and as it is the second largest object in orbit it reflects the sun in the same way as the Moon does becoming visible after dark.   The speed and altitude of the orbital trajectory means that the ISS is visible for only about 6 minutes from horizon to horizon.  There are web sites and smart phone apps that can help you find where the ISS is but to figure out where it will be in the sky before it gets there is a little more difficult.  Ok so this was a tough challenge but not too tough.  I started finding the Apps and sites I would need to predict and capture the images which were stacked to make the image above.

I had a folder full of phone apps and a few websites to play with and e launch date was approaching soon so I went out and tried a test shoot of the ISS to see if I could find it in time to capture it. The location  was easy to choose since the Fog covered most of the coastal areas only Fremont Peak would have a clear view.  I arrived only 5 minutes before the flyover and setup trying to get focus and frame the shot . . . but it worked out and I got my first ISS image. 
Now I was ready to try the challenge and #SpotTheStation after the new crew launched May 28th.  

On launch day I watched my friend Romeo Durscher who had asked me to participate resharing all the launch images and links to watch the docking to the ISS. Now it was time to shoot this thing.  I used the web site http://www.heavens-above.com/ to find the next ISS passes and trjectories then used Google Earth to figure out where I wanted to go.  The weather made the decision easy as Fremont Peak would be the only place I could get to above the fog and low clouds.  I got there in plenty of time and after flying an aerial video of sunset relocated down the road a few miles to get the view of Hollister and setup may cameras and started taking images waiting for my 6 minute window.  

The ISS blazed across the sky and went right where all the apps and information led me to believe it would making for a great capture.  it took about 7 images to make this stacked composite image of the ISS's first pass.

Image by George Krieger

When got home I stacked and processed these images and posted them while getting ready to meet some friends for a Alpha Test of a new broadcasting technology.  Immediately a local traffic reporter from KSBW TV messaged me on Facebook and asked to use then image on-air that morning. Also Romeo had seen it and was sending it to Reid Wiseman aboard the ISS.  I got the local news station a copy and rushed out late for my drive to Stanford.  

Shared on NBC and ABC locally

By the end of the day I had found out that my image was seen in space and they wanted to use it as well to help spread the work about #SpotTheStation.  Reid Wiseman wanted me to tweet the image to him so he could share it from space!  How cool is that?  Well for a geek like myself ....Wow what an honor!  



But this was only part of the image I was making. You see I kept on shooting for another 90 minutes until the ISS made a second pass.  I had taken over 300 images on my main camera before it was all over. I captured two ISS passes from the same spot and all the star movement in between them as well.  

The final  image I was working on was about to begin while the first 7 shots were being shared around the world on twitter and the local news.  I wanted to get this done and publish it so folks could see what I was really making.  The process I had to use to do this took me a lot of time to get right.  Many of my exposures had plane trails in them or car headlights over exposing areas of the image, those had to be removed as well as any other annoying frames. After culling I took the image count from 309 to 148 and started to simultaneously stacking them and building the necessary images to create a timelapse video as well from the same imagery.  After processing, stacking, time lapsing. reprocessing and getting the final still image finally done I still have a video to make for this too!   


UPDATE: New video excerpt of this image being built in a new post


More information about the images used to make this:
Camera: Nikon D800E
Lens: Nikor 14-24mm F2.8
ISO 1250
Shutter speed 20 seconds 
using F stop 3.2
total images taken by this camera in this position was 309 of which 148 were used

Apps used to find the ISS
Compass App (almost any one will do)
Google Earth
http://www.heavens-above.com/ website

Processing software used 
Lightroom 5
Startrails.exe

Well here is the second part of my #SpotTheStation project have fun with it while I am working on the next installment.
There are two ISS trails one right through the center of the image and the other coming from the lower left and only bright enough to be seen 1/3 the way across the image. The rest of the lines are star trails and a few planes that were left in. This is a stacked composite with the foreground averaged over all the images. These two passes were about 90 minutes apart on  June 3rd 2014.




UPDATE: 2014-10-29  @Astro_Reid retweeted my latest #SpotTheStation image from space!  Making my second this year!!!   Here is the newer image taken in Big Sur, California.
It shows the ISS coming out of a 79 degree transit and heading SouthEast.  It was stacked from 191 images that I took while the ISS flew by at 17,500MPH.  We waved and I am sure they waved back now.
The title of this latest image is 
ISS Flyover. . . CHECK!




all imagery copyright George Krieger and you can write george@xarray.com for lic and permission requests.  If I have submitted this page for republishing I have already given you lic permissions.