Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fragments of destroyed spysat USA 193 still in orbit

In a surprise move, Space-Track, the on-line orbital database of USSTRATCOM (formerly the NORAD database), has released orbital elements for 17 fragments of USA 193 still in orbit.

This is surprising, as normally they don't publish anything connected to a classified satellite launch: for example, they do not publish elements for things like spent rocket booster stages or fairings connected to classified launches. I guess they want to show the world that USA 193 is now indeed reduced to fragments, and that they keep track of them.

On February 24, Norwegian observer Christian Kjaernet observed one of these fragments visually through his telescope. His observation remained uncorroborated for some time (notably because of bad weather experienced by several active amateur trackers), but it is clear now that it was indeed a USA 193 debris fragment.

The 17 fragments for which orbital elements have now been released, have spread over almost the full former orbit of USA 193 in the days between the ASAT intercept and the moment of writing this post. Unfortunately, Space-Track restrictive rules of data dissemination do not allow me to provide a map of the spread of fragments.

Most of the 17 fragments now catalogued will decay over the coming month.

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