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From: Bob Hampton (thunderstruck@cydev.com)
Date: Tue Sep 11 2007 - 16:31:03 EDT

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    Greetings Seesat-L!
    
    Sorry for the mal-formatted message, I thought I had it set right, but obviously I didn't.  I hope it's right now.  Please accept my sincere apology.
    
    My name is Bob Hampton.  I'm 50 years old, married with two kids. I live on a mountain named Thunderstruck Knob, near Micaville, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, USA.  35.9465N, 82.2147W, 2,965 ft.   
    
    I discovered Seesat not long ago and have been reading the archives, decided to go ahead and join up.  I look forward to corresponding with all of you. 
       
    I've been observing satellites as a hobby off and on for about 25 years, beginning in 1981 when I experienced the launch of STS-1 and then saw it fly over a couple of days later.  Then I lived and worked for a few years (82 - 84) as a civilian employee at Kwajalein Missile Range in the Marshall Islands, operating and maintaining electro-optical tracking systems.  One of those systems was a 24" tracking telescope with extremely intensified video (ISIT).  Mostly we tracked Minuteman missiles launched from Vandenberg AFB in California and targeted for Kwajalein Lagoon.  We could usually see and track them as soon as they broke the horizon, still ascending.  Maybe not "satellites" per se, but close enough I think, as they reached an altitude of 1200km. Sometimes I was able to just stand outside and watch the missile reentries, and those objects (reentry vehicles, payload busses, decoys, etc...) dropping in from space were the most spectacular things I have ever seen. The telescope was not part of NASAs tracking network, but we had the ability to "slave" the telescope to a big radar on the island that was, so we were able to track the Space Shuttle just for fun (at 240X).  As long as the Shuttle was in sunlight we could see it great, even if we were sunlit too.  We saw lots of detail on it,like the cargo bay doors and the manipulator arm, but never got the opportunity to see a spacewalking astronaut. 
    
    I also had a personal observatory on the island, and I spent many hours there watching, among other things, random satellites that flew over.  
    
    Then I lived in Central Florida for a while and did lots of "naked eye" satellite watching there.  In about 1990 I wrote my own satellite prediction program in Turbo Pascal, and NASA was mailing TLEs to me every few days.  My program was crude, assumed circular orbit, but worked great for my purposes and I used it for years.  I used it to watch Mir, HST, GRO, Shuttles, and lots of others.
    
    Now I'm in NC, and for a few years I've been regularly watching satellite flyovers using predictions from Heavens-Above.  Often with the wife and kids helping me spot them. Whenever possible I've been watching the ISS with my telescope, tracking by hand at 125X.  Wow!  It's like I'm there!  I track other satellites listed on Heavens-Above just to practice tracking, even if no chance of seeing shape, and it's just plain fun!.  The only satellite predicting software I have is Orbitron. I haven't used it much yet but I'm sure I will, for now I usually just check HA. 
    
    Three years ago I built a permanent observatory here at Thunderstruck.  It's just a 10 ft square wooden shed with 6 ft high walls and a roll off roof, but it works great.  
    My primary telescope is a 13.1 inch f4.5 "Odyssey One" Dobsonian telescope I bought from Coulter Optical in 1982.  I had the mirror 99% reflective aluminized a few years ago, better than new!  Someday I want to motorize it, but for now it's just manual Alt-Az, no drives at all.  I recently added a 4.5" f10 reflector, riding piggyback as a tracking scope.  
    
    A friend recently gave me a cheap webcam (creative labs) and some software for it, so now I'm rigging the webcam to my telescope with hopes of eventually imaging the ISS.  I rigged a film can to mount CCD board at the telescope's prime focus, and I've already gotten some photos of the Moon and Jupiter using it.  But that tiny little webcam CCD sees only a tiny fraction of the light beam, the result being I'm zoomed in WAY TOO FAR!  It looks to be operating at 350X!  Fantastic for the moon and Jupiter and such, but tracking by hand I doubt I'll ever get the ISS into that FOV, even with the tracking scope, but we'll see.  Another friend just brought over a bracket to do eyepiece projection, so I might try that next to drop the magnification some.
    
    My website is:   http://thunderstruckobservatory.com
    
    It has photos of my equipment and some other things I've mentioned. 
    
    I've also been getting into the geosats lately.  For a few months now I've been watching an approx. 40 degree long part of the Clarke belt, from due south working westward, keeping an eye on about 45 geosats that live there.  I like 125X best for this, not much FOV, less than half a degree, but the geosat motion against the stars is immediately obvious.  I really enjoy just watching them drift along. The old Dob is great for this, rock solid mount and lots of light.  I haven't identified any of the geosats yet.  My concrete telescope pedestal has leaned a few degrees a while back, it doesn't effect my astronomy, but for now my Azimuths and Elevations are off for the satellites.  I hand painted azimuth numbers on the base, and I use a cheap inclinometer to get alt.  Works good enough for me to reliably find them again.  Calsky's got a good list of geosat positions, but mine don't match up.  I'll have to fix it soon.  I was hoping to figure out the identities just based on relative positions and the slots that have multiple satellites, but I haven't quite got there yet.  Even when I eliminate the higher inclinations there's more listed than I'm seeing.  But I'm seeing quite a few of them, and it seems a little strange that NONE of them ever seem to be near the limits of my scope, which should see to about mag 15.  Am I missing some even dimmer ones?  I don't know, but if I am there would seem to be a "magnitude gap"?  Even at solstice the dimmest geosats I'm seeing seem to be a full magnitude or two brighter than my dimmest stars. 
    
    I'm in awe of you guys generating your own TLEs and real data from observations and tracking with simple optics and/or digital cameras!  Amazing.  So far I've just been looking, but someday I'd like to get into that!  I've got a lot to learn, so I'll try to pay attention.  I've got an old digital camera but it doesn't do time exposures. But I dug out my old film camera and put some film in it.  35mm camera with 35mm lens.  Gonna shoot nothing but satellites on the roll.  Got 5 or 6 Iridiums and 3 Lacrosse passes on there so far and an ISS pass too....  
    
    I hope to have more to post soon.  This list is a great thing.  I'm sure it will be a valuable tool for me, and I hope to make some contributions as well.  Thanks to all of you who have been posting on here.  
    
    Happy apogee!
    
    Bob Hampton
    
    
    
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