Time lapse: the Space Shuttle orbits the Earth

By Phil Plait | August 2, 2011 6:58 am

The Space Shuttle project may be over, but we can still get some pretty cool stuff from it. The NASA Goddard Space Light Center put out a time lapse video of the Orbiter Discovery orbiting the Earth while docked to the International Space Station, and like all time lapse animations, it’s enthralling:

[Make sure to click the HD button on the lower right.]

That last shot of the Sun rising on an Orbiter is actually of Atlantis, and was taken on July 19, 2011, not long before the Orbiter undocked from the space station and returned to Earth one last time.

News recently broke that the private company SpaceX is planning on sending its new Dragon capsule to the ISS as early as November of this year. The original plan was for a flyby in a test mission, but now they want to combine the second and third tests and perform an actual docking maneuver. Orbital Sciences is planning to unveil their own capsule next year. So I wonder: what sort of images from the ISS will we be seeing next?

Related posts:

Time lapsed: the Moon plunges into shadow
Time lapse video: from North Carolina to the galactic center
Gorgeous Milky Way Time Lapse
Incredibly, impossibly beautiful time lapse video
Time lapse: Journey through canyons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures, Space

Comments (19)

  1. César

    i’ll never get tired of these videos. thank you so much, phil!

  2. Dr.Sid

    What striked me is that the shuttle and ISS rotate to face the Earth all the time. End they do it with high precision. You can see the shuttle against horizon .. and the horizon does not move at all.
    I guess this is useful for communication, but even then any antenna dish will have to track .. but what about the solar panels ? Do they rotate all the time to face the Sun ?

  3. Grand Lunar

    It’s over so quick! But so cool too.

    A lot of it seems like it’s over the ocean. Small wonder there, I suppose!

    @1. Dr Sid,

    The panals do rotate. I think they do follow the sun.
    I read on the entry on Wiki that when in shadow, they are rotated in a manner to reduce drag.

  4. Trebuchet

    Lovely. And never to be seen again. It makes me sad, but we’ll move on.

    @ Dr. Sid: I don’t think they have to actively control the station to maintain the orientation toward Earth. It’s within the gravitational field and will naturally stay in the same position. More or less!

  5. I guess we will see a bunch of different ferries carying cargo every other month.
    No one tried to replace the proton ships with the new designs.. Where are the russian space companies?

    @ Dr Sid The ISS moves all the time, It has gyroscopes that controll it made by the US and when they aren’t working or a fast movement is necessary the ISS uses jets on the Russian segment. The solar panels heve to rotate so that they can maximize their electric output.

  6. Dr.Sid

    I know gravitational gradient has such stabilizing effect .. but I didn’t think it’s so strong. For example landing of the shuttle should affect speed of rotation quite dramatically. But on the video, the horizon is just fixed. Btw yes ! Drag could be another good reason to orient the whole station in one way.

  7. Joel

    Beautiful vid. What’s the music though? I’m sure I know it, and it’s driving me mad.

  8. Dr.Sid

    As for the music, I think it’s a piano .. but I’m not an expert ..

  9. Robert Gibson

    @Joel & Dr. Sid – the music is Prelude #1 in C major from the Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1, by J.S. Bach. It’s either played very fast or sped up to match the length of the video. My version of it runs 4:17.

  10. Wayne on the Plains

    Typo alert:
    I believe it’s customary to spell Flight with an F, unless there is a Space LIGHT Center I’m not aware of…

  11. Jean-francois Marchand

    This might be one of the most beautiful video ever.

  12. The Shuttle is nice but it’s the blue ball under it that’s really wonderful! :)

  13. Jeroen Versteeg

    Actually, the title should read “Space Shuttle orbits the WATER” ūüėÄ

  14. ASFalcon13

    Actually Dr. Sid, gravity gradient would tend to turn the stack on end. The stabilization you see here is all due to the control moment gyros (CMGs).

    I’ve actually seen this happen, by the way. I got to sit in Mission Control and observe during the STS-130 docking. Once the Shuttle and Station soft dock, both vehicles are set to free drift mode to reduce stress on the docking apparatus. If the docking rings are aligned, they immediately crank them in to hard dock. If the rings are sitting at an angle to each other though, they have to wait for the stack to settle out, and this is what happened during STS-130. They’re still in free drift mode while they’re waiting, and the stack is essentially a single-ended barbell, so gravity graident causes the whole stack to slowly turn Shuttle-end down. Once that happens, the rings should be pretty well aligned, so they crank the rings in to hard dock, then go back to active attitude control with the CMGs to get the stack pointed the right way again.

  15. icemith

    Can anyone identify ANY feature that is flown over? Some bits are vaguely familiar, but I really just can’t put names to them. They just look odd. (Reminiscent of a half completed crossword, with an incorrect entry or two that don’t allow another clue to be answered properly).

    I realise that some views are upside-down, or otherwise, compared to our “usual” orientation of maps with North at the top. The preponderance of cloud does not help either.

    I thought I had a good handle on Our World map!


  16. Dan

    Really amazing; one of the best time lapse videos I’ve ever seen. Too short though!

  17. Messier Tidy Upper

    Beautiful video clip. :-)

    @9. Robert Gibson : Thanks for that info. – appreciated. :-)

    @14. Jeroen Versteeg : “Actually, the title should read ‚ÄúSpace Shuttle orbits the WATER‚ÄĚ

    Yes, given it is two-thirds oceans to one third land, planet Earth really is a little misnamed isn’t it? Being particularly pedantic we could point out that it’s not just the Space Shuttle but also the International Space Station doing much of the orbiting here too. ūüėČ

  18. Click on my name for another superb Space Shuttle video this one via Michael Interbartolo III’s Youtube channel – the final ascent highlights for STS-135 ‘Atlantis’ plus the last ever ‘Endeavour’ landing and more – fairly long video but well worth watching, IMHON.


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