Astronaut Sunita Williams working on the International Space Station (ISS)

International Space Station gets communications upgrade

Marking 12 years of continuous human habitation of the International Space Station (ISS), the Russians launched two satellites and the Americans introduced SMS and email sighting alerts.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos said it had successfully deployed two satellites aboard a Proton rocket, one of which – called Luch 5B – will relay video, voice and data communications to and from the ISS. Luch 5B has a secondary role of tracking low-flying space objects, while the other satellite, Yamal 300K, will broadcast Russian TV and high-speed Internet services.

Luch 5B will cover the Indian Ocean and is part of a network of Russian spacecraft linking mission controllers with the space station, scientific satellites and rockets. The US has an equivalent network called the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System.

Meanwhile NASA, which has long offered ISS sighting tables online, has added an SMS and email service called Spot the Station.

Register with your location, and it will send you a message a few hours ahead of time letting you know that an opportunity to spot "the third brightest object in the sky" is coming up. Email alerts are available world-wide, but SMS alerts are only available on US cellphone carriers.

NASA said that only “good” sighting opportunities would be listed, meaning sightings that are high enough in the sky (40 degrees or more) and reasonably long lasting. Depending on the ISS' orbit, these can occur anywhere from once or twice a week to once or twice a month.

Further information

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/index.html

http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

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