Monday, 27 December 2010

OT: (3200) Phaethon, the Geminid meteor shower parent body

This is somewhat Off-Topic as it doesn't concern satellites. It does however concern two other astronomical interests of me: meteors and asteroids.

On December 13th, the annual Geminid meteor shower peaked. Twelve days later, on December 25th, I made this image of the parent body of this meteor shower, asteroid (3200) Phaethon.

The image was made 'remotely' using the 37 cm F14 Cassegrain of Winer Observatory in Sonoita, Nevada (MPC 857). It is a stack of 4 images of 150s exposure each, spaced 20 minutes. It shows the 4 positions taken by the (moving) asteroid for each of these 4 images in this time span. As tracking was on the asteroid motion, the stars are small trails. The asteroid was about magnitude +16.

click image to enlarge

For an interactive orbit plot of (3200) Phaethon, click here.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A second NROL-41 (FIA Radar 1) patch

Grey overcast skies and snow do not allow observations currently. South-African observations by Ian Roberts show that PAN was still drifting as off 21 December. Will be interesting to see where the drifting stops (if it continues this way, it will soon drift out of my reach).

In a week or so from now, I will be preparing my overview of 2010 observations. For now, I want to fill the weather-induced lul in observations by showing a recent addition to the patch collection.

A patch for NROL-41, the FIA Radar 1 launch (2010-046A), was shown earlier on this blog here. Recently I however acquired a second patch, which is of much better design:

click image to enlarge

Patch designs of the black space program have become a bit generic and bland lately, perhaps as the result of this NRO Director's memo, but the NROL-41 patch above is beautiful. And, with hindsight, offering some clues (to what we now already know from our own observations).

The clue is in the heroine archer. She is aiming for the setting sun (i.e., westwards). I feel this could very well be an allusion to the unusual retrograde (westward) orbit of the FIA 1 Radar.

The purple 'vermicelli' pattern in the nighttime earth actually includes a few character combinations, i.e. acronyms, of units and organizations connected to the launch. Recognizable are amongst others 'NRO', and what appears to be '4 SLS' and 'LRS' or 'LRSW'.

It would be interesting to know what the three white stars in the patch rim signify.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

When did PAN start to drift?

click diagram to enlarge

Answer: on December 1st. Which tallies with it still being at her old position at 38.0 deg E on November 28.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A satellite in the "fish mouth" of Orion's nebula, and nine geosats in one image

Sunday evening, I shot a number of images of the geostationary belt in Orion using the Carl Zeiss Jena 2.8/180 mm lens. This yielded amongst others a very pretty picture of the Milstar 6 r/b (03-013B), snapped when it was located spot on in the dark "fish mouth" area of M42, the Orion nebula:

click image to enlarge

The image below shows a full image shot, measuring 6.8 x 5 degrees. It shows as much as 9 geostationary satellites (3 classified and 6 commercial) in the same image. Numbered boxes refer to the detail images below the main image. Note how many of them (boxes 3 to 6) line up along declination -7.3 degrees, in a line from bottom left to upper right.

click on image to enlarge

Mystery satellite "UNKNOWN 101208" is PAN!

Those of you following this observing blog and the Satobs list, will be aware of the observations of the past week of what appeared to be an unknown geostationary satellite.

It was first observed on December 8th by me, and next by Greg Roberts as well (see here for the discovery, as well as here, and here for the follow-up).

It was first thought to be perhaps DSCS 3-11, but that turned out to be incorrect. So it was a bit of a mystery, as no recent launch was a candidate either. And geosats just don't "materialize" in the sky. Obviously, this was an older geosat being relocated: but which one?!

The mystery has now been solved, by Greg Roberts. The satellite is PAN (2009-047A), relocating to a position more to the east.

Greg imaged the old position of PAN (close to Paksat 1) on the 12th, but couldn't detect it. So he made the obvious conclusion: PAN was gone and identical to the eastwards drifting satellite we called "Unknown 101208" since December 8th.

I can actually confirm Greg's result of the 12th: I imaged the "old" position as well that same evening and like Greg find no trace of PAN, only Paksat 1 is present.

So how about my "observation" of PAN near the "old" position on December 8th, the same evening that I first spotted "Unknown 101208"?!?

It is very embarasing, but I turn out te have been fooled by an image artefact! With hindsight, I should have been suspicious: the little dot I thought was PAN was quite faint, and visible on only one out of 2 images. This unlike my November 28th observations, when the true PAN clearly showed up in its "old" position on multiple images.

Below image shows the image artefact that fooled me on the 8th (the insets show details of this image, and a second image taken 20 seconds later on the same evening which only shows Paksat 1 - which with hindsight should have warned me).

click image to enlarge

Here is another image, showing PAN and Paksat 1 on November 28, and Paksat 1 with PAN no longer present on December 12th.

click image to enlarge

With the current drift rate of just under 0.5 deg/day, PAN probably started to relocate on or around December 1st.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Recovering SDS 3-3 (USA 179) and following the UNKNOWN 101208 geosat

Our amateur network had lost track recently of the HEO satellite SDS 3-3 (USA 179, 2004-034A), so it had to be recovered. Radio doppler shift data by an amateur remaining anonymous provided enough information to Ted Molczan to issue a search orbit for visual or camera recovery.

Last evening started clear, and I quickly recovered it very close to Ted's predicted search orbit position. It was about 0.3 degrees off from the latter, so a very neat result! See the image below, the first in a series I shot yesterday with the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar MC 2.8/180mm:

click image to enlarge

After imaging another HEO too, the ELINT USA 184 (2006-027A), clouds came in. The situation turned very dynamic, with the sky going from clear to clouded to clear in a matter of minutes.

I wanted to see if I could image the 'mystery geostationary satellite' which I discovered on 8 December again, a satellite that has now been temporarily designated as Unknown 101208. With my initial December 8 observations and Greg Robert's December 9 & 10 observations, Mike could fit a reasonably good orbit:
Unknown 101208
1 99991U 10344.69054052 0.00000000 00000-0 00000-0 0 03
2 99991 0.0670 10.3484 0003000 147.2004 212.7996 1.00405600 05

The object is drifting eastward at a rate of about 0.5 degrees/day and is now well east of the Turksat 2A & 3A duo (it was west of them when I discovered it on the 8th). It's identity still remains a mystery. Early ideas about it being a DSCS relocating, can now be dismissed.

Under very dynamic conditions, I managed to take advantage of a clearing that lasted literally only minutes (!) to capture it again last evening, along with a few others in the same image. The latter objects were the Milstar 6 r/b (2003-012B) and Mentor 4 (USA 202, 2009-001A), and in addition the non-classified geostationaries Turksat 2A & 3A, Thuraya 2 and Express AM-1.

While the image quality was bad (quite fogged images), the object clearly showed up. Below is one of the images, showing the mystery satellite with the Turksat duo. Compare to the December 8th picture here, when the mystery satellite was still west of the Turksats:

click image to enlarge

Friday, 10 December 2010

Update on the UNID geostationary: Greg observed it too!

On the evening of December 8, while imageing PAN, I captured an unknown object, apparently in a geostationary orbit, close to the commercial geostationary objects Turksat 2A and Turksat 3A. See my earlier report and pictures here.

Since then, I have been completely clouded out. However, Greg Roberts in South Africa had clear skies yesterday, and managed to recover the object. It has moved closer to the Turksat duo.

Greg is in some doubt whether this really is the "lost" SCS 3-11 (2000-001A ) as he feels it is too bright.

To be continued!!!!!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Again Terra SAR-X and TanDEM-X, and a rich batch of

Yesterday evening was a very dynamic evening, where conditions changed from clear to clouded to clear in matters of minutes.

Besides the unexpected recovery of a lost classified geostationary, I also observed a number of other geostationary satellites, and another fine flare of the close duo TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X (for an earlier observation, see here). They flared to mag. -1 at about 17:18:20 UTC, yielding the image below:

click image to enlarge

Movement is from left to right, with TerraSAR-X leading. The distance between the two objects was 3' (arcminutes).

Among the geostationary satellites imaged, were the classified objects PAN (2009-097A) and the Mentor's USA 202 (Mentor 4, 2009-001A) and Mentor 2 (98-029A). In addition, the commercial geosats Express AM-1 (2004-043A), Hellas-sat 2 (2003-020A), Paksat-1 (96-006A, close to PAN) and Thuraya 2 (2003-026A, close to USA 202). This in addition to the recovery of DSCS 3-11 (2000-001A) and the closeby commercial geosats Turksat 2A (2001_002A) and Turksat 3A (2008-030B) .

Below two images show the couple Mentor 4 (USA 202) and Thuraya 2 imaged with the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar MC 2.8/180mm; and Mentor 2 imaged with the Canon EF 2.5/50 Macro.

click images to enlarge

[UPDATED] An unidentified Geostationary or GTO object

UPDATE 9/12/2010:
Ted Molczan has identified the object as being likely DSCS 3-11 (00001A / 26052), last seen 178 days ago at another position.

UPDATE 14 Dec 2010: the object is PAN (09-047A), see here for the story of how this identification unfolded. PAN started to drift on Dec 1st.

This evening (December 8), while imaging PAN (09-047A) in a race against the clock with incoming clouds, I inadvertently imaged a UNID (unidentified object).

The object showed up in the images taken with the 2.8/180mm Carl Zeiss Sonnar. It is located about 0.5 degrees West of the commercial geostationary duo Turksat 2A and Turksat 3A. So far, I cannot find a match for it with any known (classified or unclassified) object. Below are the two images, taken 20 seconds apart:

click image to enlarge

It is either a geostationary object, or an object in Gestationary Transfer Orbit close to its apogee.

It got clouded shortly after this image series, so after discovering the object on the imagery I had no opportunity to go out and make additional images for more positions.

The two positions gathered are (in IOD format):

99999 10 342A 4353 G 20101208210402300 17 75 0513341-072580 56
99999 10 342A 4353 G 20101208210422300 17 75 0513542-072590 56