by Paul D. Maley

I photographed geostationary satellites in orbit 22,000 miles above the earth using a camera and 135mm lens and ASA 400 film from Brazos Bend State Park not far from Houston. Here are three such satellites located in close proximity. This is a timed exposure and the stars are drifting by as shown by the parallel lines. The three satellites remain essentially fixed.

As a challenge I tried to capture more in one frame and succeeded in snagging 7. The objects are from left to right: Galaxy 3, SAS-3, Telstar 3A, SBS 2, Westar 4, SBS-1, and SBS-4. The date is October 4, 1985.

Some satellites at this high altitude will flash to naked eye brightness. As an example here is Telstar 401 which was recorded 11/26/00. It flashed up to +1 magnitude though some of its flashes were not quite naked eye brightness. Sometimes the big flash was preceded by another smaller one 5 seconds before hand. Here is the first faint flash.

The next image shows the much more distinct and brighter, 3rd magnitude flash which occurred 5 seconds later. If you compare the two images (which have been extracted from video tape) you can see that there is a star in the lower left corner of the first frame that does not appear in the other. Nothing mysterious here. This is a consequence of using SNAPPY to capture images from video. Sometimes it will capture all point sources on a frame, sometimes it will not.

My earlier attempts at documenting geostationary satellites were primarily visual. However, the following were taken in 1982.


The Canadian ANIK spacecraft launched aboard STS-5 on November 11, 1982 was photographed from Houston, Texas on December 18, 1982 at 0643GMT. It was shot with a 2000 mm focal length lens on ASA400 film. Streaks are stars trailing throug the field of view. The short elongated line is the ANIK which moved slightly during the 8 minute exposure. It was on station at 117 deg W longitude.  Slant range 22133 statute miles.

Below that is the SBS satellite also deployed on STS-5 in geostationary orbit at 94 deg W longitude. I shot this photo at 0723GMT on December 18, 1982. The 10 minute exposure shows very slight spacecraft motion. Slant range 22829 statute miles.