Thursday, February 27, 2014

Imaging USA 186 after the winter blackout

In yesterday's post I mentioned that while the southern hemisphere window on the evening Keyhole/Crystal satellites ended early February, for us in the northern hemisphere it is just starting. After Greg in South Africa did the last southern hemisphere observations of USA 186 (2005-042A) on Feb 12, Cees in the Netherlands did the first northern hemisphere observations on Feb 21.

Yesterday evening (Feb 26) I did my own first post winter-blackout observations of USA 186. I captured it on several images, including the one below which shows the satellite shortly after merging from eclipse on 30 degrees altitude in the N-NW:

click image to enlarge

As current passes at 52 N are still restricted to visibility very low in the northern sky, I could not target the satellite from my regular town center location (which has obstruction by buildings in the north). I therefore did a short bicycle trip to a spot 2 km southeast from my home, in the Cronesteyn polder on the eastern outskirts of Leiden. Visibility is horizon to horizon there.

As I expected the satellite to be faint this low in the N-NW sky, I used the 1.4/85 mm lens instead of the 2.5/50 mm lens I normally use on the KH-11 satellites. The satellite registered well on the images, and was some 10.3 seconds early on a 5-day-old elset. It is evidently still drifting in RAAN (see previous post). As visibility improves over the coming weeks, it will be interesting to follow it.

I also targetted some parts of the geostationary belt, but have not come yet to measuring those images (probably this weekend).

If weather cooperates the coming week, I will return to this observing spot to try to recover the new primary West plane KH USA 245 (2013-043A), which hasn't been seen since Greg's observations of January 11, i.e. for almost two months. USA 129 is not visible from 52 N yet.

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