Saturday, 23 July 2016

The fabrications of Masami Kuramoto (again on MH17 and the suspect Russian MoD pictures)

In January, I posted an analysis of images provided by the Russian MoD during a press conference in July 2014, a few days after the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over the Ukraine. These images purport to show Ukrainian BUK installations in a field near Zaroshchens’ke.

In my investigation of these images, I showed that the images are suspect because the satellite-to-ground geometry of the satellite and target area on the moment the images were purportedly taken, do not appear to match.

In short: the satellite could only image these targets with clearly obligue angles with the horizontal at the target location, angles between 45 and 57.5 degrees. The Russian imagery however, appears to show these purported "BUK's" as if taken from a much higher angle,almost from straight above. There also appear to be inconsistencies in the shadow directions.

I noted this in the context of checking which satelite made the purported imagery (the only candidate is the Resurs P-1 satellite). For more details, read my earlier post with the original analysis.

The authenticity of these same Russian satellite images had already come under fire from the side of the Bellingcat collective earlier, based on an analysis with the photoforensic tool FotoForensics. More recently (15 July 2016) the authenticity of the images in question again came under fire, this time by the people from the Arms Control Wonk blog, using another photoforensic package, Tungstène.

Both of these photoforensic analysis are not without criticasters (most notably Neal Krawetz, the author of the FotoForensics photoforensic tools). There are however other reasons as well to be cautious with respect to this Russian imagery.

My own analysis, approached the issue from (pun intended) another angle, and came (predictably) under fire from a number of Twitter trolls, the most persistent of which was and is an anonymous  Twitter known under the nickname 'Masami Kuramoto' (they always are anonymous, and that itself tells you something). I earlier replied to his criticism in a blog post in February.

'Masami Kuramoto' initially seemed to have given up after my rebuttal, but more recently has stepped up his antics again. He has posted an analysis on his brand new blog, called "Facts versus Truthers", in which he purports to show that my model is incorrect, claiming that I published a model that was "misaligned and pointing downhill". He also tried to smear me by suggesting I am a "truther" (really a very odd insult given the positions I take).

The truth is that Masami Kuramoto's own points of view have very little to do with "facts". As I was tired of arguing with trolls I have ignored him for a while (I have better, more useful things to do), but as the antics are stepped up in the debates in the aftermath of the appearance of the Arms Control Wonk study, and Masami publicly purports he has rebutted me and proven my reconstruction "false", I will briefly discuss Masami Kuramoto's fabrications and show the malicious manipulative perversity of it all.

It is as simple as comparing my original image (left) with the reproduction by Masami Kuramoto (right):

click to enlarge

It is immediately clear that he superimposed his block model on a severely distorted version of my reconstruction.

In fact, when we project Masami Kuramoto's block model (red) over my undistorted model, with both being rotated so that the Y-axis is north-south in order to match the North-South oriented Russian satellite image and the north-south alignments of the purported BUK on that image, we get the image below.

click to enlarge

As you can see, the two models actually match very well. There is no significant difference between my model and Masami Kuramoto's model, contra Masami Kuramoto's insistence. In fact, it only appeared that way because Masami Kuaramoto provided a distorted version of my model and compared his model to that, rather than my original.

Hence why I use the word "fabrication" to refer to Masami Kuramoto's attempt to rebut me. Masami Kuramoto's argument that my model is "misaligned and pointing downhill" is simply not true, the argument is fabricated.

Looking at the reconstructions above, it is also very clear that the BUKs in the Russian MoD image do not match both Masami's own model and my model in terms of what is visible of the west sides of the launch vehicles (the slanted look of the models due to the oblique viewing angle).

This of course was the original point of my analysis: the two BUK's seem to be shown too much from directly above these machines, whereas the image should show a clearly oblique angle (as the model reconstructions show)

I want to emphatically point out, that no amount of orthorectifications applied to the Russian image can make the exposed west sides that should have been imaged (but are not), somehow automagically disappear. Nor will it result in incompatible shadow directions.

So, I think my point is clear. And it is also clear that Masami Kuramoto is a malicious, insincere troll of the kind that is abundant in the MH17 debate.

I know enough of troll behaviour by now to have no illusion that this will stop Masami Kuramoto's attempts to discredit my findings by provided fabricated counter-arguments. He will try again, and in that sense, this will be a perpetual discussion. Remember however, the history of this discussion so far, in judging the veracity of any new bollocks he might come up with.

It is interesting to look at how this whole argument developed, as it contains several clues on how to identify a troll. Masami Kuramoto tried from the start to tear my analysis apart by any handle he could perceive. When several of these attempts failed, he went on to the next one, and then yet another one. This is the hallmark of someone with a strong bias, a bias with an origin in ideology. In brief order (see also the summary and discussion in my earlier post):

1) He tried to argue that the orbital elements for the satellite in question I used were incorrect, and hence my geometry reconstruction was incorrect. He argued that the US MoD had post-altered the orbital elements for this satellite, but was taken aback when I informed him that I (and several other satellite trackers) maintain a private archive of elements. I regularly save copies of the latest orbital elements released by JSpOC to a hard drive and have an archive of these going back many years, and that analysis of that archive showed no sign of post-MH17 fiddling with the orbital elements;

2) Then he tried to use a part of the Space-Track User Agreement, taken completely out of context, to (falsely) imply that the elements would not be accurate enough (the matter of fact is that the accuracy of JSpOC elements for the question at hand is not in dispute, see my earlier post);

3) He then tried that argument again by referring to a publication, without (wanting to) realize the inaccuracies pointed out in that paper were very small scale and completely neglicable for the discussion at hand;

4) He then came with the fabricated counter-evidence currently under discussion in this blog post.

In all cases, he insisted on maintaining his position even after being corrected on the matter. It was (and is) very clear he is desperately looking for handles to tackle my analysis because he wants to prove it wrong. Masami Kuramoto is pro-Russian and promotes a worldview where Russia is never wrong, so I must be. As we have seen, he is willing to fabricate arguments to sustain his point. All this, from the comfort of his anonimity.

There are a lot of people out there like Masami Kuramoto (and, to be clear, not just pro-Russian ones). They are annoying, and poisoning the debate. Around last week's 2-year anniversary of the MH17 tragedy, we have seen a lot of it again, both anonymous and not so anonymous, coming out of the woodwork. Most of these people are "useful idiots" blinded by ideology. Some are more sinister, as they deliberately fabricate disinformation on behalf of an involved party.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 chasing the ISS in the sky

ISS and Dragon CRS-9. Click to enlarge

Last night was a clear and very warm, moonlit night (21 deg C). It was warm enough to observe in shirt and shorts. I observed MUOS 5 and USA 224, but the highlight of the night came in early morning twilight: a splendid pass of the ISS being chased by SpaceX's Dragon CRS-9 cargo vehicle launched July 18 and berthing to the ISS at the moment of writing.

The image above shows them, crossing Aquila at 1:32:42 UT (3:32 local time): ISS is the brighter object in top, the Dragon is chasing it, some 20-25 seconds behind it.

It was a splendid view, seeing the two objects majestically sailing across te sky. The Dragon was very bright an easy to see: mag +2 when clearing the rooftop in the southwest, and briefly attaining magnitude 0 while decsending in the southeast.

The image was made with my Canon EOS 60D and an EF 2.0/35mm lens set at F2.2, 5 seconds exposure at 800 ISO. This was 9.5 hours before the Dragon was captured by the ISS's robotic arm for berthing.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Reentry of Soyuz rocket upper stage from Progress MS-03 launch seen from New Zealand, 19 Jul 2016

On July 19, 2016, near ~6:30 UT (~18:30 local time), a bright very slow and long-lasting fireball was reported by many people from New Zealand's South Island. Several images are available, e.g. here and here and here. The fine video below is from YouTube user Ralph Pfister:

Perhaps the most accurate time given for the event is 6:26 UT as given by amateur astronomer Paul Stewart from Timaru on New Zealand's South Island. Stewart captured  the fireball on several all-sky images. A fine animation of his images is on his weblog.

From the video's it is immediately clear that this is not a meteoric fireball, but the re-entry of an artificial object (i.e. artificial Space Junk).

Time, direction of movement  and geographical position moreover match well with an obvious decay candidate: the Russian Soyuz upper stage (2016-045B, NORAD #41671) from the July 16 launch of Progress MS-03 to the International Space Station. In other words: this was a Space Junk re-entry.

At the moment of writing, the elements that are available for the Soyuz rocket stage are almost a day old and not unproblematic. For unknown reasons the B* drag value of the elsets is zero and the NDOT/2 value unrealistic.

This hampers analysis slightly, but using the almost a day old elements face-value, the upper stage would have passed over New Zealand's Southern Island near ~6:33 UT (~18:33 local time). This is within minutes of the time of the New Zealand event. The direction of movement of the rocket stage also matches that in Paul Stewart's imagery.

The maps below show the predicted position and track of the Soyuz upper stage for 19 July 2016, 16:30 UT (18:30 local time in New Zealand). They are based on the almost a day old element set  16200.42841345.

click map to enlarge

click map to enlarge

The few minutes discrepancy between predictions and actual sighting from New Zealand is not unusual for a re-entering object. The last available elements (at the moment of writing) for the Soyuz stage are actually from many hours before the reentry, and during the last moments of its life the orbital altitude drops quickly (i.e. the orbit alters).

Old elements hence will place it in a too high orbit compared to the reality of that moment. As it drops lower in orbital altitude, the rocket stage will get a shorter orbital period and hence appear somewhat earlier,  "in front" of predictions made using the old element set. Discrepancies of a few minutes are therefore normal in cases like these.

When it is "early" on the ephemerids, the orbital plane will be slightly more to the east as seen from a locality. In this case, the nominal pass predicted for Paul Stewart's locality would have been a zenith pass: but the a few minutes earlier pass time compared to the predicted time and the lower actual orbital altitude at the time of the re-entry would result in a sky track that is shifted eastwards and lower in the sky. This matches Paul Stewart's all-sky imagery.

Friday, 8 July 2016

MUOS 5 stuck in GTO

The website has broken the news that something has gone wrong with the orbit raising manoeuvres of MUOS 5. They have therefore been halted for the moment. A formal statement by the US Navy on this all is here.

So MUOS 5 at this moment appears to be stuck in the aproximately 15240 x 35700 km Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) in which Paul Camilleri and me observed it between July 3 and 5 (see my previous post).

It is the white orbit in the plots below (replaced with new versions July 9):

Orbit in TLE form:

MUOS 5                                               15242 x 35703 km
1 41622U 16041A   16186.93646397 0.00000000  00000-0  00000+0 0    08
2 41622   9.8319 324.4682 3211964 178.4686 182.8307  1.52727671    09

rms   0.003   from 14 observations Jul 3.46 - Jul 5.57 (arc 2.1 days)

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Tracking MUOS 5 in GTO [UPDATED]

click to enlarge

Over the past days, Paul Camilleri in Australia and me in the Netherlands have been tracking an object in GTO with a Mean Motion of 1.5 revolutions per day. It produces brief bright (mag +8) flashes each ~5 minutes. We are certain this is MUOS 5 (2016-041A) launched June 24 (see my earlier post here, about Paul's orbit insertion and Centaur fuel vent imagery).

The image below was shot by me from Leiden, the Netherlands, during the night of 4-5 July 2016. The object was at an elevation of only 16 degrees above the horizon:

click image to enlarge

Paul first imaged it from Australia on June July 3, when it passed a few degrees from the position where we expect MUOS 5 to be placed in GEO. I next imaged it from the Netherlands during the night of June July 4-5, low at my southeast horizon not far from Mentor 6. A few hours later, Paul observed it again from Australia. All these observations can be fitted to yield this GTO orbit:

MUOS 5                                               15242 x 35703 km
1 41622U 16041A   16186.93646397 0.00000000  00000-0  00000+0 0    08
2 41622   9.8319 324.4682 3211964 178.4686 182.8307  1.52727671    09

rms   0.003   from 14 observations Jul 3.46 - Jul 5.57 (arc 2.1 days)
Comparing this orbit to the initial GTO insertion orbit from June 24-25 provides a clear link. The RAAN values of both orbits agree to within a few degrees, and the apogee direction is also very similar, as can be see in the plot below:

click to enlarge

In the plot above, the red orbit is the June 24 initial GTO insertion orbit. Somewhere after June 25, the satellite manoeuvered (multiple times probably) to increase its perigee from 3900 km to 15240 km. The white orbit is the resulting "current" GTO orbit from the July 3-5 observations.

[ UPDATE 7 Jul 2016 17:25 UT: I have since done an analysis that suggests that a perigee-raising manoevre from the initial 3903 km to 15242 km could have happened on July 3, near 14:33 UT, in apogee. I suspect however that it was in reality a series of smaller manoeuvres [update July 8: series of manoeuvres confirmed here]]

The grey orbit is the eventual geosynchronous orbit in which MUOS 5 will be inserted a few days from now (probably with a position near longitude 172 W). It will probably make more manoeuvres for that purpose the coming days. [update: there is a possibility it actually did so only a few hours after our last observation on July 5] 

UPDATE July 8 17:00 UT: News has come in that something went wrong and MUOS 5 is snagged in GTO for now. More on the website and a brief follow-up post here].

The plot below shows how during this manoeuvering, the orbital inclination has been lowered, from 19.0 degrees initially, to 9.8 degrees currently. It will be further lowered to ~5.0 degrees upon GEO insertion:

click to enlarge
The object shows a clear brightness variation, from mag +8 to invisible, with a peak-to-peak period of ~5.0 minutes, indicating the satellite is spin-stabilized. [update:  Ted Molczan has noted that this 5-minute periodicity seems to be typical for the Lockheed A-2100 bus in GTO].The bright peaks are of short, specular and somewhat variable duration: lasting ~0.5 to 1 minute. During the lows, the object was not visible for my equipment.

The image sequence below, from my June July 4-5 imagery, shows a part of the described brightness behaviour:

click image to enlarge

As I have written earlier, MUOS 5 will likely be placed in a geosynchronous, 5-degree inclined orbit near longitude 172 W, probably within a few days from now or perhaps even on July 5th already [see the update already mentioned above: MUOS 5 has got stuck in GTO! See also the brief follow-up post here]. This is an initial check-out position. It will stay there for 4 to 6 months, and then be moved to longitude 72 E where it will be placed as an on-orbit spare. In 2015, we observed this with MUOS 4 (see previous posts here and here).

(this post was thriple updated, on 7 Jul 17:25 UT and 8 Jul 8:30 UT and 17:00 UT)