Out of Space

Space Station and docked Dragon capsule visible throughout NZ

Duncan Steel Mar 04, 2019

As I write, the Dragon capsule – a spacecraft intended to loft US astronauts into orbit – has been docked with the Space Station for almost 18 hours on its initial test flight. It happens that you will be able to see the station plus capsule passing over New Zealand each evening for the next week or so, before the … Read More

Times to Spot the Space Station

Duncan Steel Feb 19, 2019

It’s easy to see the International Space Station passing overhead: you just need to know when and where to look. Oh, and a clear sky. The International Space Station (ISS) regularly passes across New Zealand, a little more than 400 km above our heads – rather less than the distance between Auckland and Wellington. Most of these transits … Read More

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The Nelson bush fire: What can satellite images tell us about such events?

Duncan Steel Feb 12, 2019

The ongoing fires in the Nelson-Tasman region have quite rightly provoked much alarm. The response of Fire and Emergency New Zealand, the NZ Police, the NZ Defence Force, and many private individuals, has been magnificent. However, the utilisation of satellite imagery for assessing such fires and then planning and responding is deficient in NZ compared to much of the rest … Read More

Satellite imagery of the Nelson bush fire

Duncan Steel Feb 09, 2019

The area burnt in the ongoing bush fire in the Nelson-Tasman region, largely around Pigeon Valley near Wakefield, can easily be seen in satellite imagery collected in recent days.  Earth observation satellites frequently cross New Zealand and, clouds allowing, collect imagery of the land and sea below. In later posts I will discuss such data collection in more detail, but … Read More

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Satellite Orbits: Global Navigation Systems

Duncan Steel Feb 05, 2019

Apart from the US-provided Global Positioning System (GPS) used by most commercial navigation systems – such as in your car, or mobile phone – there are several distinct networks operated by other space agencies deploying their own satellite fleets. Here I describe the orbits employed by the Russian, European Union and Chinese GNSS constellations. (Part 3 in a series of … Read More

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Harry Hindmarsh Atkinson: obituary

Duncan Steel Jan 27, 2019

Harry Atkinson in 2012 (courtesy William Tobin). Harry Atkinson was one of those able New Zealanders who went overseas to study, fully intending to return one day to these shores to live, but due to their great success in their adopted homelands never did so. A physicist by training, he moved into science advice and administration in Britain and … Read More

The invention of the geostationary communications satellite

Duncan Steel Jan 18, 2019

The idea of satellites beaming radio communications around the globe was discussed by science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke in 1945, though he imagined huge geostationary space stations permanently staffed by astronauts who would be needed to change the electronic valves in the onboard radio transmitters. We’ve not been able to watch live cricket matches from around the globe on … Read More