Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Back to basics: AEHF 2 and SBIRS GEO 2 imaged

click to enlarge

Time to go back to basics. The photo above is part of an image I shot in the evening of January 20-21, 2016. It shows a number of commercial geosynchronous satellites and two classified satellites: AEHF 2 and SBIRS-GEO 2.

This image was shot from Leiden center using a Canon EOS 60D and a Zeiss Sonnar 2.8/180 mm lens and 15 seconds exposure (ISO 1000). It shows an approximately 2.5 degree wide field in Hydra, just east of alpha Hydra. The sky was extremely transparent, and to my surprise a waxing moon in the sky was no real hindrance: conditions I do not encounter often!

Most prominent on the image (a crop out of a larger image) is the commercial Astra 1 group, a group of four satellites well known to European owners of satellite tv dishes. Just north of the group is AMOS 5, an Israeli commercial communications satellite. It suffered a malfunction on 21 November 2015, as a result of which all contact was lost.

Also visible in the image are the commercial satellite Arabsat 5C and the Chinese satellite Tianlian 1-03. The latter satellite is a Tracking- and Data Relay satellite that plays a similar role to the US TDRS satellites. The Tianlian satellites are specifically meant to relay data to and from Chinese crewed Shenzou spacecraft.

Two classified US satellites are visible in the image.

On the right is AEHF 2 (2012-019A), the second Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications satellite. The AEHF system is a replacement for the older Milstar system, and use of this US system is shared by the military of a number of  countries, at this moment the UK, Canada, and my own country, the Netherlands. It is eventually to consist of 6 satellites, of which 3 have been launched as of early 2016. The satellites have been designed to be resilient to jamming and intercept efforts.

On the left is SBIRS GEO 2 (2013-011A), the second geostationary satellite in the Space Based Infra Red System, a series of US infra-red Early Warning satellites meant to detect missile launches. I discussed this system in detail in several recent blogposts, as this system might have played a role in potentially detecting the missile that shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Indeed, the satellite imaged here, SBIRS GEO 2, is one of the SBIRS satellites that had sight on the Ukraine at that time.

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