VERY preliminary Shenzhou-5 Visibility Expectations

Based on the 9 AM Beijing time launch on October 15, and using the orbital
path of the Shenzhou-1 precursor mission (Chinese space officials have
explicitly confirmed this), I used my WinTrak satellite prediction program
to find visibility opportunities.

I didn’t expect much, because the vehicle is low (making the visibility band
narrow) and moving west-to-east at the latitude of twilight (making the
length of the opportunity short). But with its solar panels and external
brightness, it should be a fairly noticeable object.

First US pass: emerges from shadow over Altoona, PA, at 09:57 UT, moves due
eastward (visible from as far west as Columbus, looking eastward). From
Washington, DC area is 60 deg elevation in northern sky. Passes directly
over NYC area at 09:58 UT and fades into dawn sky.

Second US pass: emerges from shadow east of Denver at 11:28 GMT, elevation
40 deg from Denver; passes directly over Omaha, NE, at 11:29 and fades into
dawn sky.

Third US pass: emerges from shadow over Eureka, CA, at 13:00 GMT, visible
from San Francisco bay area in northern sky, elevation 40 deg. Passes north
of Winnemucca, NV, at 13:01 and fades.

There’s even a chance to see it from Beijing on the last rev prior to
landing, but a difficult view – into the east, elevation 20 deg as it
emerges from shadow at 20:35 UT (4:35 AM local) heading east (and lower in
the sky). This pass is much better from South Korea, halfway up the northern
sky at 20:36 UT (5:36 AM local).

I recommend would-be observers pay attention to Seesat reports from Europe,
posted at to see what
success they may have with attempts. Below is the message from Ted Molczan
with his predictions.

From: Ted Molczan (
Date: Thu Oct 09 2003 - 02:37:23 EDT

I based my preliminary orbital elements on a report of an 8 AM (0 h UTC)
launch time; however, there is discussion on FPSPACE and a report at pointing to launch at 9 AM (01 h UTC) and a 21 h mission

The one hour later launch would result in the following search elements:

Elliptical Parking Orbit until 2003 Oct 15 at 07:50 UTC

Shenzhou 5 7.8 2.5 0.0 5.4 d
1 70000U 03288.67587361 .00788058 82648-5 58603-3 0 31
2 70000 42.4069 26.2082 0099929 134.5463 16.8336 16.04205144 103

My guess is that the spacecraft will trail a short distance behind the
rocket during this period.

Circularized Orbit after 2003 Oct 15 at 07:50 UTC

The spacecraft will circularize its orbit as it passes through apogee for
the 5th time, about 7 h after launch, whereupon it will be in this orbit:

Shenzhou 5 7.8 2.5 0.0 5.4 d
1 70001U 03288.67700930 .00036000 00000-0 19749-3 0 17
2 70001 42.4080 26.2791 0004797 163.8920 321.6647 15.78791273 101

The visibility latitudes would be a bit wider than those of the 0 h UTC
launch, but more of a pass would be in eclipse.

Ted Molczan