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from left: Josef Huber Klaus Nagel Tobias Lindemann

A short story of our project

An article on satellite tracking in "Sky and Telescope" from August 1998 showed very impressive pictures of the Space Shuttle taken by Ron Dantowitz. Since our newly installed telescope was able to track satellites, we wanted to try the same and we started an internet search for information on satellite tracking.

It took about one year to collect the necessary informations and software. Josef linked the telescope to his laptop and we were ready to track. Our first tries failed, because we had neglected some important factors, like epoch of the TLE , system time and exact location coordinates. The tracking software was not ideal either, it was a leap frog version, but we needed continuous tracking.

Another year later we saw our first satellite in the finder. By this time we had got permission (by Manfred Mauz) to connect a computer to the telescope, provided we could see the satellites in the eyepiece. In the next days we succeeded and installed the computer. To get a more exact time we put in a radio controlled clock. The tracking improved and we asked the observatory for a camera. In the meantime a German television station had asked the observatory, if one could see the ISS in a telescope. "Yes, of course, we have guys who track the ISS" said Peter Staettmayer, the head of our observatory. But at that time we had not tracked the ISS and of course had no images, which we could show. Now everything had to go fast: We got two cameras, one for the finder and one for the main telescope. We spent almost every day at the observatory and worked on our Tracking Station, installed the cables for the cameras and built a box for the connections. Not much later, Dec.22.2000, Josef took the first pictures of the ISS. I came late from work to the observatory and couldn't believe it, when I saw Josef's video: the big solar panel and all modules were visible! One day later I opened a new section on my Homepage called "Satellite Tracking" to publish our images.

About four years later we got a new telescope at our observatory. It is a 80cm Cassegrain Ritchey-Chretien telescope, which has much more positioning accuracy as our "old" LX200. Another major advantage is that you can control it by velocity vectors and therefore it is better for continuous tracking. Satellite-Tracker, the old tracking software, does not support this telescope. So we had to design our own program. Dr. Klaus Nagel, a member of our observatory, has offered us to do this and so he joined to our team. On February 2005 the program was almost finished and we had our first successful track of a satellite.

first satellite in finder (cross marks position of main telescope; moving point is satellite)