Saturday, December 31, 2011

Summary of 2011 observations

As the year is closing, it is time for a summary of the observations conducted in 2011.

Compared to the previous two years, 2011 saw slightly more observing nights, a larger number of  classified objects tracked, but a slightly lower number of positional estimates done:

Number of observing nights: 87
Number of obtained positions:  883
Number of classified objects tracked: 43

For 2009 and 2010, this were respectively: 77, 953, 32 and 78, 1084, 39

In the second diagram above, it can clearly be seen that the spring and late summer were very good (many clear nights), while winter, and especially December, were very poor.

The following tables give a summary of the objects observed (with the "obs" column refering to the number of positions obtained on the object):
(click tables to enlarge)

Just for fun, I plotted all obtained positions on an RA/DEC map:

click diagram to enlarge

New at SatTrackCam in 2011:

2011 saw several new additions to the equipment:

New lenses - new lenses added to the repertoire were the very fine SamYang f1.4/85mm and a Canon EF 2.0/35 mm. The SamYang allowed to target fainter objects in LEO and MEO, going clearly deeper than the EF 2.5/50 mm normally used on brighter objects in LEO. It's FOV is still large enough to capture full trails.
The Canon EF 2.0/35 was added to target fast moving objects in LEO such as objects near decay, Soyuz and Progress, and Keyholes in perigee passes. It has a similar aperture as the 50mm lens but a wider FOV.

Video - Video finally did it's entry at SatTrakCam Leiden in late 2011. The equipment consists of a sensitive WATEC 902H camera that can be equiped with a number of lenses (including the above mentioned Canon EF 2.0/35 and the SamYang 1.4/85). A GPSboxSprite2 time inserter from BlackBoxCamera in the UK is used for the imprint of accurate time signals, and the video feed is recorded on a HDD recorder.

Remote telescope - I have used remote rentable telescopes for some time for my work on asteroids. Starting mid-2011, I am also using them on satellites. The telescopes used are part of the SSON network and consist of a 37-cm and 61-cm Cassegrain located in California and Arizona. These received COSPAR station codes 8231 (Winer obs, MPC code 597) and 8438 (Sierra Stars obs, MPC code G68). I use them to target geostationary satellites visible from the western part of the USA. Two notable targets repeatedly imaged were the new SBIRS Geo 1 (11-019A) and the enigmatic Prowler (90-097E).

Observational highlights:

A few observational and other highlights of 2011:

Nanosail-D - This experimental NASA solar sail put on a fine show during late spring and summer. A study was made of the brightness variation of this object. See various posts here.

The last Space Shuttle missions - The truely last one was not observed, but the last flight of Discovery was imaged several times.

Spectacular IGS 1B flare - IGS 1B is a Japanese spy satellite that failed in 2007, will reenter in 2012-2013 and probably still has some fuel onboard. When I posted on the latter on this blog, this generated some interest, even from the White House.
On  September 2nd, I observed a brilliant flare produced by this satellite, one of the best satellite flares I have ever seen.

UARS and ROSAT - the uncontrolled reentries of these two satellites generated a lot of attention. ROSAT was actually observed twice by me shortly before its reentry, see here and here.

Fobos-Grunt - This Russian probe launched in November should have gone to Mars and the Martian moon Phobos for a sample return mission. A rocket engine failure however got it stuck in Low Earth Orbit, from which it will reenter mid-January. I observed, photographed and even filmed it a number of times.

Andre Kuipers to the ISS - on December 21st, a Soyuz with Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers was launched for a six-month mission to the ISS. Just before the end of the year, I finally could see the ISS with Kuipers on board pass over Leiden and film it (between launch on December 21 and the sighting on December 30th, it had been very bad weather).

Andre's Soyuz 3rd stage decay - Due to untimely cloud cover I did not observe this event myself, but was involved in the identification of it. The spectacular decay in the evening of December 24th was seen by many people in the east, central and southern parts of the Netherlands (where it was clear, unlike in Leiden), as well as from Germany and France.
Ralf Vandeberg (B), Josep Remis (F) and me (NL) independantly were the first to identify the slow fragmenting fireball with the Soyuz 3rd stage used in the December 21 lauch to the ISS, disseminating our identifications on mailing lists, twitter and blogs within half an hour after the fireball apparition. Read more here.

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