Inspector/Mir/new Iridiums obs

Craig Cholar (3432P@VM1.CC.NPS.NAVY.MIL)
Mon, 22 Dec 97 22:15:06 PST

I saw what I believe to be the Inspector space station observer
leading Mir by 49 seconds during an 81 deg. elevation pass culminating
at 02:04:16 12/22 UT.  It appeared steady, and required binoculars to
see it since the mag. was somewhere around 6.6.  This is very likely
the same object that Steve Bolton reported on Dec 18 that he saw 3 seconds
ahead of Mir at around mag 5.6-6.0.

Skymap 6.0 showed Mir occulting Deneb on this pass, so I took my
eyes off of Inspector to see how close Mir would actually graze the
star.  Mir passed _directly_ in front of Deneb, occulting it _exactly_
as predicted.  I've always been impressed with Skymap's accuracy,
and it's nice to see it confirmed like that.  I didn't manage to
reacquire Inspector after watching the occultation, so I took it easy
and enjoyed watching Mir at one power as it reached mag -2.

I ran the Inspector elsets a few weeks forward, and it will slowly
move further away from Mir.  Very slowly.  Even into the first week
of January it could be possible to see them simultaneously above the
horizon, barring any further maneuvering.  Here's an excerpt from at the Inspector website:

> X-Mir Inspector starts secondary mission
> Bremen, December 19, 1997
> The first free-flying space station observer of type X-Mir Inspector
> equipped with a high-resolution video camera has started its secondary
> mission...
> Inspector will enter a predeterminded fixed elliptic orbit around the earth
> in order to continue data and pictures transmitting to the ground station
> in Weilheim during the next nine months...
> Inspector will leave the Mir station at a speed of 20 kilometers per
> day in flight direction.

Inspector                                        389 x 378
1 25100U 97058D   97356.10306027 +.00012460 +00000-0 +14836-3 0 00243
2 25100 051.6545 220.8460 0007700 116.1274 244.0514 15.61502790000741

Prior to the Mir pass, I had expected to see the new Progress vehicle,
but missed it completely despite a favorable 47 deg pass culminating
in the NW in evening twilight.  I guess I was too distracted trying
in vain to spot the decaying Progress rocket which might have been
passing in shadow shortly before, low in the NW.

To make up for missing both Progress objects, I made an attempt to
see the new Iridiums during a series of low evening passes culminating
about 17 deg in the west at around 02:30 UT (18:30 local).  Since the
phase angles were wretched, and they were about 1620km distant, I
used my newtonian and focused it on a star I picked out from
Skymap's plot.  Right on time, all 5 showed up, very dim even in
my scope.  The only two close enough to see in the same 1 deg. field
of view were the last two, 25107 and 25108.  The others were spaced
about 13 seconds apart.  From first to last, the interval was 42
seconds.  I lost them shortly after culmination in the glare of my
neighbor's hundreds of outdoor Christmas lights.   Bah, Humbug!  :-)

Craig Cholar