Saturday, 24 March 2012

Brightness variability of the NOSS 3-3 Centaur Upper Stage (with video)

NOSS 3-3 is a pair of US Navy NOSS surveillance satellites launched early 2005. The Centaur upper stage of this NOSS 3-3 launch, NOSS 3-3r (2005-004B) is still orbiting earth as well. And as it does so, it is tumbling.

This tumbling is visible to an observer as a regular variation in brightness. Currently, the rocket stage brightens up every 11.4 seconds.

Below video shows the regular variation in brightness: watch it go from faint to bright to faint etcetera with an 11.4 second period. It is footage from a pass over Leiden which I filmed in the evening of March 22, using the WATEC 902H and a Canon EF 2.0/35 mm lens:

click images to enlarge

Using LiMovie, I extracted the brightness variation from the movie on a frame by frame basis, resulting in the depicted brightness profile above. Note that the tops of the curve are sharp, not rounded. It is a nice saw-tooth pattern. The integrated video frame picture shows the brightness variability nicely too.

Documenting this kind of tumbling behaviour (and notably how it changes over the years) can actually provide some valuable scientific data. A number of amateur observers specialize in these "flash observations", notably my fellow members of the Belgian Working Group Satellites (BWGS).

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