On the night of April 3/4, the NRO launched NROL-25, a new classified satellite. This satellite, FIA Radar 2 (USA 234) is the second of the FIA Radar satellites, and the third launch (assuming that the failed USA 193 was the first) in the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) series. It received the SSC catalogue entry #38109, international Cospar launch code 2012-014A.
Like its earlier sistership FIA Radar 1, FIA Radar 2 is in an unusual retrograde orbit (proving that it is a radar satellite). Going from estimated search elements by Ted Molczan, Scott Tilley in
I was clouded out on Wednesday 4 April, but yesterday evening (5 April) was clear and it was finally my turn: I could observe both evening passes, and film them. The above video provides a compilation of the obtained footage.
The first pass occurred in late twilight near 19:33 UTC , the second at 21:16 UTC (23:16 pm local time). A Near-full moon resulted in a quite light sky. During the first pass, my GPS time inserter had some trouble maintaining the time signal (see "GPS Bad" message in first part of the footage above) and by coincidence my photo camera malfunctioned as well (due to a mistake with the wire release). Luckily, I had a second pass at 75 degree elevation 1.5 hours later, during which I could obtain a good set of positional data.
FIA Radar 2 was about mag. +4 and steady in brightness. Radio observers report a fading cycle in the radio signal, but visually the object is very steady.
I obtained some photographs as well, during the second pass of the evening. Below is a picture (Canon EOS 450D + EF 2.5/50mm Macro) shot while FIA Radar 2 crossed through the tail of the Big Dipper (Alcor & Mizar in top of the image). It is not the best of images due to the moonlight, but shows the satellite trail well in this 5-second exposure:
Over the comings days/weeks the new satellite will probably be actively manoeuvering, so it will be a nice object to keep track off!