Q1: At first, congratulation that your nice image won #ASIWEEK. Can you introduce yourself to us?
My name is Philip Smith, I am retired living in New York. I like astrophotography, space and scientific exploration documentaries. I also like imaging The International Space Station / The Chinese Space Station along with fast moving jets.
This is a sample of one of the images of a fast-moving jet called > F/A-18E Super Hornet < coming out of what looks like a portal.
If you want to see more of my images and videos, go to Philip Smith Facebook page.
Q2: Why do you love astronomy and when did you start astrophotography?
On my TV July 20,1969, at 10:56 p.m. EDT, American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, was 240,000 miles from Earth. He spoke these words to me and more than a billion people listening at home: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Stepping off the lunar landing module Eagle, Neil Armstrong, and America, became the first to have a human walk on the surface of the Moon.
That was the day I wanted a telescope to look at the Moon and all its craters. On Christmas Day, there was my 1st telescope. I took it outside in the night sky to look at the Moon, planets, and airplane lights. In the day time, it would be used to look at aircraft of all types and sizes. I pretended they were spaceships for fun and wonder, what the people inside were thinking and talking about, and what they could see looking back down to the ground. When the spaceship would move out of view, my last thought would be, what was the magical place they were about to explore? It was later in life I could to buy a camera and a larger telescope to document what I was seeing. As a young boy I learned to stop walking with my head looking down all the time. Now and forever, I will take more time looking up to the many unknown wonders far and beyond the reaches of our solar system.
Q3: Compared to other types of photography, where do you think astrophotography’s charm lies in?
I like all kinds of photography. You get the opportunity to reveal the hidden wonders when you have the right filters, cameras and tracking mount setup that are need because they can’t be seen with the unassisted eye. Examples are deep-sky nebula gasses and distant galaxies. The more date you gather on any given object, the more your final image will give you the chance to reveal a better image. This is because the signal to noise ratio is greater. These are sample images on the internet for distant galaxies.
The two images below, were my attempts from 11-24-2006 to image M42 Orion Nebula and NGC 1977 Running Man Nebula with my Canon EOS camera.
Q4: What equipment do you have? Any photos of them?
This is my ISS Tracking xbox 360 hand controller I use to communicate with the Videos Sky Pro software.
My last setup was the same for both Space Station images. I used my HOTECH Advanced CT Laser Collimator first to align the primary and secondary mirror, for good collimation. My imaging setup is an Edge HD 14 ′′ telescope with red filter on a ZWO ASI174MM (mono) camera at full sensor 1936 x 1216 and 2x Barlow Lens and the MoonLite Focuser. All on Orion Atlas EQ-G mount custom-built inside and out with custom ISS tracking software, Videos Sky 21018 Professional Software, made by Emmanuel Rietsch. This software lets me lock on to the ISS and take over the mount to keep up with the ISS. I use 2 laptops. The 1st laptop is for the ISS tracking software. The 2nd is my very fast laptop for recording and imaging at high frame rates with the software FireCapture V2.608 x46. I use processing software, AutoStakkert3, VirtualDub, RegiStax6, and SC6.
Q5: Where do you normally take astrophotos? From your backyard or somewhere else?
I take most of my astrophotos in my observatory. There are different times I may need to go to another area on my property to image. Having your own permanently place to keep your telescope setup all the time, is a great time saver. No more setting up and breaking down my different imaging equipment.
Q6: Your great work the “ISS and Tianhe-1” shows amazingly rich details of these two objects. We love it! Could you please tell us specifically how you captured it?
My imaging setup was specifically the same for both Space Station images. I used an Edge HD 14 ′′ telescope with a red filter and 2x Barlow Lens on a ZWO ASI174MM camera at full sensor 1936 x 1216 in my MoonLite Focuser. The Orion Atlas EQ-G mount is custom built inside and out with custom ISS tracking software, Videos Shy 21018 Professional Software, made by Emmanuel Rietsch and assembled for me. This software allowed me lock onto to the sunlight off the ISS. Then the tracking software took over the mount to keep up with the ISS. A hand controller was used to help keep ISS centered on the sensor. I use 2 laptops. The 1st laptop is for the ISS tracking software and hand controller. The 2nd laptop is my very fast laptop for recording and imaging at high frame rates. The images below represent both Space Stations true to scale and what it would look like if the two Space Stations were flying side by side. The International Space Station (ISS) and Chinese Space Station (CSS) were imaged at the same height. I think I am the first amateur astronomer to get two high-resolution images to make this 1 composite image. I hope in time to get even better images to share with you.
For more info. > Chinese and International Space Station
Q7: We see many space station photos on your Facebook page, why are you so obsessed with it?
I am obsessed with imaging the International Space Station and now also with The Chinese Space Station. When given the opportunity to see the ISS with your own eyes, knowing that bright light is reflected by the Sun, and realizing there are astronauts inside. Personally, for me, it is a chilling moment that still can make me smile uncontrollably. Watching the Space Station is like watching a jet moving fast across the sky. It gives me an adrenalin rush but with not much time at all to image it. The ISS revolves around the Earth at about 17,500 mph (~28,000 km/h), which means it takes about 90 minutes for one revolution. and then about 16 revolutions per day.
The ISS rotates about its center of mass at a rate of about 4 degrees per minute so that it will complete a full rotation once per orbit. This allows it to keep its belly towards the Earth.
Because the Earth is rotating, the ISS doesn’t pass over the same places on Earth each orbit. Each orbit is 22.5 degrees to the east of the previous orbit 360-degree rotation of the Earth in one day, divided by 16 orbits of the ISS about the Earth in one day.
I like taking images of all the different spacecrafts that come and go to the Space Station. China will need to carry out about 10 missions in total to complete the assembly of the Chinese Space Station (CSS). I hope to image them all as each module is added. It is also nice to image new added experimental or scientific testing modules like the BEAM docked on the ISS.
Please Note: I made history with this image below which I took 5 years ago.
BEAM 5th Year Anniversary On ISS
The BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) experimental module, launched on April 8 aboard the Dragon CRS-8.
Q8: What do you think are the most important and difficult parts when imaging the space station?
The most important and difficult part when imaging the Space Station is to have good seeing at the time of the ISS Passes. You need to understand good images or recordings of the ISS are far and few. The temperature inside your telescopes needs to be as close as the ambient temperature to help get better images. If you are off on your focus point and or bad collimation on your telescope lens or mirrors, then you will never get your best clear sharp images. You will always have bad to no images if, weather anomalies like bad seeing, bad transparency, clouds, rain, snowing, jet streams and global wind belts, overhead at the time of the ISS passing across the sky. Imaging the Space Station is not like imaging other targets like the Moon or messier objects in the night sky, which you can image for hours each night. The Space Station pass waits for no one, as it races across the sky. They are also not always visible to image every day or night due to the ISS orbit. If you ever had the opportunity to see the Space Station in the sky, you will find a fun fact that you can only see the ISS in your area at nights or early morning when it is out from the Earth’s shadow. The sunlight reflecting off the Space Station makes the target possible to be seen by eye.
This is a good website I use which is called WINDY.COM. You can learn more about how to find and image the ISS by yourself. Go to Szabolcs Nagy, website, spacestationguys.com. Szabolcs. It has ISS images posted on it and ISS imagers all around the world.
To see the animation > S1-3 Radiator Damage on ISS / Crew-1 <
Q9: You also photograph our Moon, the Sun and planets, but we rarely see your deep-sky photos, can you tell us the reason?
I have nothing against deep-sky imaging. I feel it is very time consuming when I do not have the great processing skills to produce the images that I want to post. As of last year, I started to more image the planets with my ZWO mono and color cameras. The old deep-sky image of Pleiades, Seven Sisters (M45) was taken with a Canon EOS camera. The Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter was taken with ZWO mono and color cameras. The Venus Solar transit, was taken with my Canon EOS camera. It looks like to me the Sun was going to eat Venus with the help of the cloud. It was taken with my Canon EOS camera.
Q10: The space exploration has been rapidly developed for the recent decades, in your view, what’s the meaning by doing this? Why we need to build those rockets, capsules, and stations?
Space exploration has been rapidly developing for the recent decades. Example: Rockets and cargo capsules first shipped the STARLINK Satellites to the ISS and then deployed them from there into space. Starlink Satellites may be important ‘Learning Technology’ of the century. It’s not just global coverage, it’s what it can deliver. The big problem for deep-sky astrophotographers, is the need for long exposure times to get the data required for deep-sky imaging. These Satellites show up and ruin the image. I do feel there is a need for a military Space Force.
We need to build rockets, capsules, and Space Stations to keep up with space exploration. We will need them for the survival of humankind. We may need to go to another Earth-like life sustaining planet.
Q11: How did you know ZWO? What was your first ASI camera?
Many years ago, I liked looking at images of planets on the internet. My friend, Sylvain Weiller, told me about ZWO cameras and that they were running a sale at that time. My first ZWO cameras were the ASI120MM-S (mono) and ASI120MC-S (color). I bought them together. I have many more ZWO cameras now. I look at them the same way I look at my tools in a tool box. I use each camera for the right purpose for different imaging targets.
Q12: Do you have anyone you would like to thank for inspiring you and helping you get the way you do now to record and image the International Space Station with your modified tracking setup?
After seeing Thierry Legault’s ISS images and videos on the internet. I was inspired and wanted to image the ISS for myself. I learned Thierry Legault, had contacted Emmanuel Rietsch, for designing a tracking system. Emmanuel Rietsch, in collaboration with Thierry Legault, designed a satellite tracking system. I then bought from Emmanuel Rietsch, an EQ-G “FULL” modification tracking system with custom tracking software. That is why I can now share my ISS images with you.
Sylvain Weiller taught me how to use software to stack ISS images at that time. I am very also grateful for that. I still use Sylvain Weiller software, ALARMClock! before ISS pass. It sets the voice command to remind me “NOT” to forget to press record button in the imaging software FireCapture. You may forget to capture the target in the excitement of seeing the ISS on your laptop monitor. Michael Tzukran is now imaging high-resolution ISS images with a different kind of tracking system and setup. He gave me good advice about a filter and barlow. I used them to image my last couple of ISS images. This is a high-resolution sample of Michael Tzukran > ISS. < image.
Q13: Why do you choose the ASI174MM camera? Are you satisfied with it?
The ZWO ASI174MM is the only global shutter camera in the ZWO planetary camera’s line up. The ZWO ASI174MM has a high frame rate of 164fps, large pixel size of 5.86um, and a high-resolution sensor of 1936 x 1216. It is currently recognized as the most suitable camera for high-speed photography and for imaging the fast moving objects, the International Space Station (ISS) and the Chinese Space Station (CSS). I am very satisfied with this ASI174MM because it is a global shutter camera with a high frame rate at full sensor.
To learn more go to Rolling vs Global Shutter Cameras.
Q14: What kind of cameras do you hope us to develop in the future?
I would like to see more Global Shutter Cameras with larger sensors and faster fps that can freeze fast moving objects like the ISS. This way, I can still use a larger X Barlow lens and keep the ISS centered on the sensor to capture high-resolution images. The Rolling Shutter is not good for imaging fast moving objects. You will see the reasons when you look at the Rolling vs Global Shutter Cameras video.
Q15: What shooting goal do you have? What object do you plan to capture next time?
My imaging goals are to try and to record more historical astronomical events like my images in Q6 and Q7. I plan on capturing all the modules that will complete the assembly of the Chinese Space Station (CSS) as China will carry out about 10 missions in total. I will keep on imaging newer modules docked on the ISS.