Sunday 30 August 2009

The USA 144/Misty-2 launch patch

Following my previous post with an analysis of the brightness variation of the USA 144/Misty-2 decoy (99-028C), one of the readers of this (b)log asked me whether I had any comments on the USA 144/Misty-2 launch patch.

Very little of use is to be gleaned about the mission itself I think, as it is a launch patch rather than a mission patch. Moreover, my guesses are as good as anybodies. I can say this though:

"B-12" is the launch number of this Titan launch. "2 SLS" stands for 2nd Space Launch Squadron. They launched the rocket from Vandenberg AFB. "NRO" of course stands for National Reconnaissance Office, who ordered and operates the payload.

The half illuminated, half in shadow earth globe with the grid and the orbiting satellite, as well as the four stars, are the logo of the 4th Space Launch Squadron. Short before this launch, they were merged with the 2nd Space Launch Squadron.

As for the tiger and the text "The cat's out of the bag!", I have no idea. The text could perhaps refer to the fact that this was the maiden flight of the Titan IV-B in the 404 configuration. Or it could not.

A discussion of the patch by Dwayne Day in The Space Review can be found here.

The tumbling period of the USA 144/Misty-2 Decoy (99-028C)

On August 25 and August 27, I obtained a series of photographs of the USA 144/Misty-2 decoy (see here and especially here). On the request of Pierre Neirinck, I did some simple photometry on the image series, to see whether I could retrieve information out of this on the current tumbling period of the object.

It concerns the following two image series. In both cases, the object is moving from right to left, and the image series has to be "read" from right to left (i.e., the most right image is the earliest in time, the most left the latest). Some clear brightness variation from image to image is already apparent.

Click images to enlarge

From these images, the following two partial photometric curves were obtained, both suggesting a period near ~70 seconds:

Click images to enlarge

Next I combined these two partial curves (from two separate nights) into one amalgamated curve (this included of course some data normalization/scaling), shown below:

Click image to enlarge

The result is a curve that can be approximated by a sinusoid with a period of 71 seconds. This suggests the object's current tumbling period is 2 * 71 = 142 seconds.

(in the curve above, the dark dots are (normalized) data points, the grey line is a 20-point running average, and the black line a sinusoid with a period of 71 seconds)

Friday 28 August 2009

The Terra (EOS AM-1) satellite, IGS 1B near M31, and more

Yesterday evening the street lights went out in town, due to some malfunction. This made my sky a bit darker than usual.

I captured the KH-12 Keyhole USA 186 (05-042A) in late twilight, followed by a fine pass of IGS 1B (03-009B) some 45 minutes later. It was very bright and on one of the images I captured it passing M31, the Andromeda galaxy.

Click image to enlarge

Later that night (with the streetlights on again) I imaged the USA 144 decoy (99-028C) passing through northwest Pegasus. In one of the images, the Terra (EOS AM-1) satellite (99-068A) was captured as a bright stray as well. This satellite carries the ASTER and MODIS remote sensing sensors well-known to Earth scientists. They were used a.o. to create the Blue Marble images of the Earth.

Click image to enlarge

Thursday 27 August 2009

A keyhole, a Trumpet, IGS 1B, and strays

Yesterday evening it was clear again. I captured the KH-12 Keyhole USA 186 (05-042A), and also IGS 1B (03-009B). In addition, two strays were captured, and the EF 100/2.8 Macro USM was used to capture the Trumpet ELINT USA 184 (06-027A) again.

In one of the pictures with USA 186, a piece of Delta 1 debris, 75-027E, was captured as a bright stray. In one of the images with IGS 1B, the Kosmos 1975 rocket (88-093B) was captured as a bright stray. Below is the latter image showing a part of Northern Cygnus:

Click image to enlarge

Wednesday 26 August 2009

USA 184 Trumpet (?) ELINT and more

Yesterday in the daytime, it was clouded and rainy. It cleared marvelously in the evning though. I detected the clearings too late to capture the evening Keyhole passes, but captured a number of other objects: IGS 1B (03-009B, a defunct Japanese SAR), Lacrosse 2 (91-017A, a SAR as well), the NOSS 3-3 Duo (05-004 A & B), and two HEO objects: USA 184 (06-027A) and the USA 144 decoy (99-028C) again.

The image below shows the USA 144 decoy again, and is a somewhat better picture than that which I posted in a previous post:

Click image to enlarge

USA 184 was imaged as well, and for the first time by me. It showed up bright. It is probably a Trumpet-class ELINT satellite. It is in a Molniya orbit (see below) and at the time of imaging was at an altitude of 28560 km, over Northern Europe.

Click image to enlarge

Below is one of the images, plus an animated GIF of all five images, showing the movement perpendicular to the night sky rotation:

Click images to enlarge


Sunday 23 August 2009

Keyholes, IGS 1B and the USA 144 decoy

Yesterday evening it was clear again. I obtained data on two of the three Keyhole KH-12's, USA 129 (96-072A) and USA 186 (05-042A); on the defunct Japanese SAR IGS 1B (03-009B); and used the EF 100/2.8 Macro USM to capture the enigmatic HEO object USA 144 debris/decoy (99-028C).

The latter object is an interesting one. It was part of the launch of what is believed to be the second stealth reconnaissance satellite, Misty-2. After being picked up by amateur observers and observed for some time, doubts began to grow whether it really was the main payload. Ted Molczan determined from the obital evolution that the object did not appear dense enough to be an operational satellite (i.e. USA 144 itself), something further suggested by the fact that it appeared to be slowly tumbling. Instead, it is either a weird piece of debris from the Delta IV used to launch USA 144; or a deliberate decoy used to get attention away from the real payload. See here, here and here for the details.

Below are one of the images of the USA 144 Decoy which I obtained yesterday evening (it is crossing the northwest corner of Pegasus here), it's orbit, and the launch patch of the 1999 launch.

Click images to enlarge

The object was almost 10 seconds early relative to a 17-day old elset. It shows a slow but clear brightness variation over the image series.

The KH-12 Keyhole USA 186 (05-042A) was 2 seconds early relative to an elset of the previous day. USA 129 (96-072A) was on-time. IGS 1B (03-009B) was 0.25s late.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Observations, a flare, and a logo

Over the past week I could observe on four evening: 11/12, 15/16, 16/17 and 17/18 August. Targets imaged on these nights were the three KH-12 Keyholes (USA 129, 161 and 186), the Japanese prematurely defunct SAR IGS 1B, and the US SAR Lacrosse 3.

USA 186 (05-042A) provided a nice mag. -2 flare on 16 Aug at 20:52:07.0 UTC. It was captured in an image, but unfortunately a too hasty camera pointing meant the satellite run out of the image before the end of the exposure. the flare is on it though, close to the image edge. Below is a crop of the relevant part of the image, and the derived brightness profile.

Note that the "saw-tooth" pattern in the profile is due to the satellite trail being at ~45 deg angle to the pixel orientation, i.e. it is an artifact of the pixel grid.

(click images to enlarge)

In a moment of boredom last weekend, I designed something long overdue for SatTrackCam Leiden (Cospar 4353): a logo.

It is a bit inspired by the "patches" the NRO employees create for their covert space missions (see here and here for a discussion and examples). Hence all symbols used have some meaning (have fun interpreting!). The Latin(ish) roughly translates to "All Your Nightly Secrets Are Belong To Us", a pun at the NRO's credo "We Own the Night" used in some of their patches and the infamous "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" of gaming/internet lore.