Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Imaging MiTEx 2

In 2006, the USA launched two experimental geosynchronous satellites, MiTEx 1 and MiTEx 2 (2006-024A and 2006-024B). MiTEx is an acronym that stands for Micro-satellite Technology Experiment. These small satellites were reportedly a technology demonstration and a project of DARPA, the US Air Force and US Navy. Being small (225 kg each) and hence difficult to detect, they explored the possibility of covertly sneaking up on and inspecting other satellites. In this sense, they appear to be part of the Prowler legacy.

In 2009, both the MiTEx satellites were used to inspect the classified US military DSP-23 satellite which had malfunctioned on-orbit in 2008 and had started to drift, physically endangering other satellites and interfering with their radio communications. This inspection was actually observed by amateur trackers in the UK and South Africa.

click image to enlarge

Since both satellites are small, they are faint and difficult to image. It requires large instruments. On 11 August 2012, I imaged MiTEx 2 using the 61-cm telescope of Sierra Stars Observatory. It is the faint trail in the image above (which is a 30-second CCD exposure guided on the stars).

This is not the first time though that I have imaged one of the MiTEx-es  (for example, the image of MiTEx 1 here, which happens to be the last positive observation before we lost that object, perhaps due to a manoeuvre: in fact, it was already slightly off its predicted position that March 15).

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