Thursday, March 17, 2011

KH-12 USA 129 and a Chinese rocket stage (CZ-2C r/b) cruising up together

Tuesday evening, the sky was very hazy and a waxing moon was high in the sky. Conditions were hence abominable, but I managed to capture both evening KH-12's, USA 129 (96-072A) and USA 186 (05-042A). The pictures are not pretty, as they are quite fogged.

The pass of USA 129 was confusing, as a second bright object close to it was moving parallel to it: at the moment of observation, I was not sure which object was the Keyhole and what the other object was! It took me rather by surprise (and as a result, I mis-aligned the camera for the second image, resulting in only one image).

It turned out to be a Chinese Long March rocket stage, a CZ-2C r/b (09-061B) from the launch of Shijian 11-01 on November 12, 2009. Below is the image, showing them cruising up together in a moon-fogged sky:

click image to enlarge

A few days earlier, on 11 March, I observed USA 186 (05-042A), Lacrosse 5 (05-016A) and the USA 144 Decoy (99-028C). I obtained a series of images on the latter, and hopefully these can be employed for a brightness variation reconstruction again (to be reported on later, after I have had some time to do the analysis).

Lacrosse 5 was racing against an untimely field of clouds that evening, yielding this picture of a bright satellite trail and a wisp of moving cloud:

click image to enlarge

The satellite did it's "disappearance trick" again during culmination north, reappearing very brightly for a brief period after it.

Earlier that evening, in a still mostly clouded sky, I saw METOP-A flaring brightly to at least -3 at about 20:09:20 UTC (March 11).

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