SpaceX launched the Dragon cargo ship into orbit on Tuesday (April 14) during its sixth commercial cargo mission for NASA. The spacecraft blasted off at 4:10 p.m. EDT (2016 GMT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and is carrying more than 2 tons of supplies for the space station's six-person crew.
Weather permitting, both the unmanned Dragon and space station will be visible as separate entities, appearing as "stars" sailing across the evening's twilight sky. Dragon is expected to arrive at the space station on Friday morning (April 17) at around 7 a.m. EDT (1100 MT), meaning that by Friday evening, both will appear as a singular bright moving "star." [Launch Photos: SpaceX's Dragon Soars Into Orbit]
The station makes one full orbit of the Earth every 90 minutes. Initially, SpaceX's Dragon will trail the orbiting outpost by about 25 minutes. But by Thursday evening, that gap will have diminished to only about 1 or 2 minutes. That means it might be possible to see both space vehicles in the sky at the same time. The station would appear first, followed a minute or two later by the Dragon capsule traveling along basically the same path.
How bright will Dragon be?
Most satellites become visible only when they are in sunlight and the observer is in deep twilight or darkness. This usually means they can be spotted shortly after dusk or before dawn. Because of its size and the configuration of highly reflective solar panels, the station is now, by far, the brightest man-made object currently in orbit around Earth.
On favorable passes, the International Space Station is as brilliant as magnitude -5 in brightness, which rivals Venus and is more than 25 times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Some skywatchers have even caught a glimpse of the station just prior to sunset or shortly after sunrise. And as a bonus, sunlight glinting directly off the solar panels can sometimes make the space laboratory appear to briefly flare to superbrilliance.
SpaceX's Dragon space capsule, on the other hand, is much smaller than the station, measuring about...
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