ISS FAQs

Where is the ISS right now

If you're asking yourself, where is the ISS right now, then the charts below show you where it is now, where it was 90 minutes ago, and where it will be 90 minutes from now.

Live view from the ISS

(press the play button in the centre of the screen)

nb. if the above image is dark, it's most likely because the ISS is in a night-time part of it's orbit - you can check that on the chart below.

These images and feeds were developed by the European Space Agency.

You may think from the wave pattern that the ISS is moving in a very strange path - but that's just because the image is 2d. If you were to fold it around a globe/sphere, it would actually be orbiting in a straight line.

The reason for the change in its path every orbit is simply due to the Earth rotating. Each time the ISS completes an orbit, the planet Earth has rotated another 22-23 degrees on its axis.

It takes 90 minutes for the ISS to make one orbit of the Earth. So in one day, the ISS will have gone around our planet 16 times. Talk about jet lag!

ISS International Space Station

Introduction to the ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) is a wonder of modern technology, and for me anyway, when I see it I am in awe of what we can achieve if we all work together.

These ISS FAQs will hopefully answer some of your questions. If you have any more, please ask in the comments below, and I'll add them in for you.

What is the ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) is a manned satellite orbiting the Earth.

The first part of the ISS was launched in 1998, and over the years since then, many more components have been added including pressurised modules where the crew can live, exercise and perform their experiments and large solar arrays which provide some of the power for the space station.

What does the ISS do

The International Space Station (ISS) is the result of 16 nations coming together to provide a permanent lab where pressure, temperature and gravity can be manipulated in ways that would be impossible on planet Earth.

The work carried out includes tests on new materials, technology and medical research.

Which nations are involved

Canada, Japan, USA, Russia, Brazil and 11 of the members of the European Space Agency (ESA) are involved with the ISS programme.

How many people are on it

With a full crew on board, the ISS will have 6 people on it.

How high up is the ISS​

The altitude of the ISS varies between 330 and 435 km (205 and 270 miles). 

How does it stay in orbit​

Although you may think of space as being a vacuum, it does still have atmospheric molecules that come into contact with all parts of the space station, causing it to have an element of drag. This drag slows the ISS down, causing it to lose altitude and speed.

On an average day, the ISS can lose up to 0.1 mph of speed/velocity and 100 metres of altitude.

Periodically thrusters on the ISS are fired to increase its speed and raise or maintain its altitude.​ Sometimes the thrusters of visiting spacecraft are also used for this purpose.

The fuel, or propellant, has to be taken up to the ISS from the Earth - and this can be very expensive. However, the higher the ISS orbits, the less atmospheric drag it experiences and therefore, loses less altitude - resulting in less fuel being required to maintain its height.

How fast does the ISS travel

The ISS travels at around 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kph), orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes, 16 times per day.

Why doesn't the ISS float out into space​

​You may think that travelling at 17,500 mph would see the ISS shoot out into space, but it just goes around and around the Earth - this is called an orbit.

The reason for this is the Earths gravity. This constant pull on all objects around the Earth means that the ISS is effectively falling to Earth, so to counteract that, it has to move forward at around the same rate as it's falling.

This is explained in detail on this Wiki link about Sir Isaac Newton's cannonball "thought" experiment but in summary:

If an object (Newton's cannonball for example) is just dropped from a height, it will fall under gravity straight to Earth: ​

Newtonsmountainv=0

If the object is released with a velocity away from the Earth, then it will travel a distance, and fall back to Earth eventually (think of throwing a ball - it doesn't keep going, it eventually comes down):

Newtonsmountainv=6000

If it's velocity was too high compared to it's altitude, then it would shoot out into space:

Newtonsmountainv=10000

If the object is released with an orbital velocity away from the Earth, then it will circle the Earth. So the speed away from the Earth counteracts the gravity pulling the object back to Earth:

Newtonsmountainv=7300

This is exactly how the ISS doesn't fall from the sky, or shoot out into space.

How big is the ISS

The ISS is currently 72.8m X 108.5m - which is around the size of a typical football pitch.

Summary

The International Space Station (ISS) is the biggest man-made object to go into space. Next time you see a fast moving, unblinking star, it may just be the ISS - so check the "where is the ISS right now" monitor above to see if it is over you at that time.

Let me know in the comments below if you manage to spot it.

All the best, Mark​

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*