Tuesday, April 23, 2013

PAN and Mentor 4 in March

Finally, an update on my observing activities in March. With apologies that it took so long.

In this post, early March observations of the classified geostationary satellites PAN and Mentor 4 will feature. In a second post following this one, I will report on some non-satellite observations: comet PANSTARRS and a fabulous display of Aurora borealis which I observed from Finland.

PAN and Mentor 4

As I noted on the blog before, weather has been extremely bad here since mid November 2012. Many nights were clouded, we had unusual amounts of snow, and spring set in very late (in fact, only last week).

click image to enlarge

The few clear nights we had, usually coincided with a bright moon in the sky. As wintertime is a bad time for LEO objects at latitude 52N  (the visibility window is very short, restricted to twilight) the focus is on objects in GEO during this season: but that necessitates clear moonless nights....

On the evening of March 4 I did an attempt, which was cut short when clouds and haze moved in. The pictures came out bad, but I did manage to image PAN (2009-047A) and Mentor 4 (2009-001A), as can be seen in the picture above. Mentor 4 is a SIGINT: PAN probably is too.

PAN was moved again in December-January, this time taking up position at 42.5 E close to the commercial telecom sat Nigcomsat 1R.

Since its launch in 2009, this enigmatic satellite has frequently moved, and this is unusual. PAN was stationed at 33.0 E from late 2009 to May 2010 and then was moved to 38.0 E. It was moved again to 49.0 E in December 2010, followed by a move to 44.9 E in the spring of 2011. Then it was relocated to 39.1 E in the summer of 2011 and next moved to 52.5 E somewhere between late October 2011 and January 2012. In May 2012 it was moved back to 38.0 E. In December 2012, it moved to 42.5 E. No doubt it will move again in the future, perhaps in May as December and May are frequently the months the satellite is moved.

Note: the listed positions for PAN are based on privately archived TLE's for the satellite. The TLE source is Mike McCants and the TLE's are based on amateur observations of the satellite, notably by Greg Roberts (S-Africa), Peter Wakelin (UK), Ian Roberts (s-Africa) and me (Netherlands).

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