Sunday, October 02, 2011

Back to business - KH-12 USA 129, the STSS demo's and more

The focus on the UARS decay the past two weeks will not have escaped the frequent readers of this blog. It is now time to leave UARS to rest, and turn back to business as usual .

The past week saw warm and sunny weather. I managed to observe on 27, 28 and 29 September as well as October 1st.

The KH-12 keyhole USA 129 (96-072A) was one of the major targets. Both on the 28th and 29th it flared to mag. +0.5, at 20:17:04.8 (28 Sep) resp. 20:21:04.0 (29 sep) UTC.

On the 29th, the images of USA 129 showed a Breeze-M tank, 04-031C, as a stray:

click image to enlarge

These pieces of Russian space debris pop up more often on my images lately. They are the jettisonable torroidal (doughnut-shaped) fuel tanks of a Breeze-M, the upper stage of a Proton M. There are now over 40 of these spent empty tanks in space, often in highly elliptic orbits representative of a geostationary transfer. Even at considerable distance, they are bright. During perigee passes, they zip through the sky at high speed as bright naked-eye objects. Further out, they move slow but are still relatively bright, as visible on the image above.

The Breeze-M tank above was at a range of over 2700 km (by contrast, USA 129 was at a range of 948 km) at the time of photography, and is a leftover from the 2004 launch of the South American geostationary communication satellite AMAZONAS.

On that same night of September 29th, I used the Samyang 1.4/85mm to target, two of the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellites, STSS Demo 1 and Demo 2. (09-052A & B). Both these faint satellites were captured near their apogee at approximately 1359 km altitude.

click images to enlarge

Other satellites photographed these nights were the Trumpet ELINT and  SBIRS low satellites USA 184 (06-027A) and USA 200 (08-010A), two satellites in HEO.

In addition, I used the 61 cm telescope of SSON in California to photograph the enigmatic Prowler again (see also my previous post here for backgrounds on this highly classified satellite).

On September 30th, I was too tired to do serious observations. I however set up the camera with 24 mm lens and automated timer to redo my recent classic startrails circling the celestial pole image, but this time for a total exposure time of 3 hours 20 minutes:

click image to enlarge


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