Will astronauts aboard the International Space Station be able to see any part of the Inspiration4 flight of the Falcon 9 during launch and/or during orbit?


1 Answer 1


Short answer: Nearly certainly not

Long answer: On every LEO mission since CRS-3, SpaceX has performed a deorbit burn of the second stage. These mean that within a day the second stage is a big fireball. As in not visible from the International Space Station (ISS). Now, I am assuming that you mean to the naked eye. So, I got stuck here. I headed on to flightclub and went onto the simulation for Inspiration 4. Yeah, flightclub! Okay, that aside I found that the inclinations were very similar (52.1 to 52.37). The altidues were less. The second stage was in a elliptical orbit of 224 km periapis and a 649 km apopias. So, now lets find out how far away the second stage is visible from the ISS. Lets start with Dragon since that is always visible. It can be seen from about 1000 feet away. It has a width and length of 7 ft. So, now, assuming that both the ISS and second stage are in the optimal viewing position, the second stage could be seen from about 1700 feet away, or 1/3 of a mile. Being that they hardly every get close enough, the chances of this happening before it deorbits are about 1/1200. So, nearly certainly not.

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    $\begingroup$ Why are you limiting your answer to the second stage? When asking about "while in orbit", the OP may not be limiting the question to the rocket itself. Also, I can see the crew Dragon from a lot further away than 1000 feet, such as 500 to 1000 miles away under ideal conditions. It may be harder to see from a moving platform, but the range is certainly greater than 1000 feet. $\endgroup$
    – JohnHoltz
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 22:23

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