Monday, 9 May 2011

UNID-I 3 May 2011 = PAN [UPDATED]

On May 3rd, I found two unidentified geostationary objects close to Galaxy 27 and Intelsat 12 (see report and pictures here).

One, UNID-I, was stable in brightness. The other, UNID-II, was flashing. I imaged UNID-I the next night (May 4th) as well, showing it drifting westwards. I might have imaged UNID-II again too, though misidentifying it at that time as Intelsat 12 (except for the occasionally very bright UNID-II, the objects were, due to worse observing conditions, at the edge of detectability).

At that time (see the link above) there already was some suspicion that UNID-I could be the enigmatic classified geostationary satellite PAN (09-047A), caught in the act of yet another relocation.

That suspicion is now confirmed, following additional imaging by Peter Wakelin from the UK on May 8th. Still drifting when I picked it up on May 3rd, PAN now appears to have settled in a new position at 44.9 E, just west of Galaxy 27 and Intelsat 12. It has moved 2 degrees higher in my local sky, to an altitude of 19 degrees.

The identity of the second, flashing UNID, UNID-II which is still drifting westwards on May 8th, is still uncertain. While it is possibly the Indian communication satellite GSat-2 (03-018A) in the act of relocating, Space-Track still lists that object stable in its usual orbit slot placing it at 48 E. So we have something of a remaining mystery to solve there (although in the end, it will probably turn out to be Gsat-2, with Space-Track for some reason failing yet to recognize it is being moved).

UPDATE 09/05/2011: about an hour after I posted this, Space-Track updated the orbit for Gsat-2, showing that UNID-II is indeed Gsat-2, probably on it's way to the graveyard orbit. So, it appears I beat Space-Track to it by several days!

PAN (09-047A) has a history of frequent relocations, making this already enigmatic satellite the more enigmatic. Previous to this early May 2011 relocation, it relocated in early December 2010, an event that I was the first person to detect as well. So far, it has been located at 33.0 E from late 2009 to May 2010 and then was moved to 38.0 E; then to 49.0 E in December 2010; and now to 44.9 E in May 2011.

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