Geosynchronous Satellites

Copyright 2002 Hap Griffin

The two dots in this photo are two television relay satellites in geosynchronous orbit, GE-3 and Telstar 4.   I deal with these two satellites on a daily basis in my work as Chief Engineer for the South Carolina Educational Television Network.  GE-3 carries all of the PBS national programming, a portion of which we uplink.  Telstar 4 is the home of SCETV's transponder, on which we uplink 32 channels of digital video for distance learning, teleconferences, etc. 

I have wanted to obtain a photograph of this pair in orbit for some time and was finally successful in early February 1999.   This 30 minute exposure was obtained with a 200 mm f4 lens on my Nikon FM piggybacked on my Meade LX-200 telescope.  The scope's computer and motors were used to obtain precise positioning of the camera to the satellites' coordinates, then the tracking motors turned off.  Thus, the background stars appear as streaks as the earth turns, but the geostationary satellites appear as dots.  The light comes from sunlight reflecting from two large wings of solar panels on either side of the spacecrafts which are orbiting above the equator at a distance of 23,000 miles.  The two satellites appear two degrees apart in their orbital arc.


Date/Location:    1999 (exact date unknown)    My driveway - Sumter, SC
Instrument:    Nikon FM w/ 200mm lens
Focal Ratio:    f 4
None - tracking turned off
Conditions:    Unknown
Weather:    Unknown
Film:    Kodak Elite Chrome 200
Exposure:    1 x 30 min
Filters:    None
Processing:    Finished in Photoshop 6