There is a surprisingly large amount of software available-VSOHP has links to many-I started using a shareware package produced by Stephen Fels called Satellite Hunting (SatHunt), this has a windows interface and is very easy to use, I download the orbital elements on a regular basis (these are updated constantly) from another site (Mike Mccants) to run on the Sathunt software. I eventually registered the SatHunt shareware as I find that, used in conjunction with my starcharts, I can get exact observed positions and times for producing orbital updates. To give you an idea of how it all works I have an example to show you below. I open up an orbital data file (TLE-two line elements) and run it on Sat hunt for a specific date-this example is 1 Oct '00-the text output shows all satellites visible form my location that night-I have picked one from a list of approx 25-this one is called Lacrosse 4, it is a recently launched classified military satellite which uses radar imaging techniques to monitor various "places of interest" on the earths surface, here is the text output:
You can see it shows the date, time, name, sat number, altitude/azimuth, magnitude and so on-this is ok but it also produces a starchart showing a much more useful positional plot:
Now we are cooking on gas-the plot consists of the stars I would see from my lat/long at the specific time-it shows the visual plot of its movement through space (passing close to Cygnus that night)-with times and magnitudes as well. So I can go into the garden at 9:08 and watch it fly over-or-time it passing over a specific point and put in a positional/timing report-see VSOHP for more details-this aspect is serious trainspotting-but about 100000 times more interesting!
Back to intro