Skywatchers across most of North America and Europe are getting a chance to see the manned International Space Station (ISS) make a series of very bright flybys in the evening sky over the next couple of weeks. As long as you have some clear skies through the 26th, the orbiting laboratory will appear as a bright white star traversing the overhead sky in a matter of 2 to 5 minutes.
For the past decade the ISS has been constantly manned and currently has six astronauts onboard. Since the end of the shuttle progtram the Russian Soyuz spacecraft has been the the main resupply vehicle and astronaut ferry. Private firms are now racing to build their own rockets and cargoships. At the end of April the ISS crew is expecting the arrival of the first private robotic cargo spaceship by SpaceX, called Dragon, to launch and dock with the station.
With over 11 pressurized metallic modules adding up to the size of a football field, the ISS is the largest spacecraft ever constructed in space. This makes it highly reflective, and therefore easily visible from the ground, even from urban light polluted cities. In fact on some flybys, when the solar panels are oriented just right, the station’s brightness can be on par with planet Venus now shining like a beacon in the west after dark- the second brightest celestial object in the night sky after the moon!
On most nights over the next week or so, observers may even get a chance to see the ISS make two or even three flybys. Orbiting at approximately 380 km above the planet and traveling at 27,000 km per hour, the station takes only 90 minutes to make one trip around the Earth putting it in direct sunlight for many hours after the sun has set locally on the ground.
To know when and where in the sky to look for the space station visit the flyby page of spaceweather.com