Monday 5 May 2014

KH-11 USA 129 is missing, USA 186 has still not manoeuvered

USA 129 (96-072A), the oldest of the KH-11 Keyhole/CRYSTAL/KENNAN optical reconnaisance satellites, has gone missing. The last observers to see it were me on April 22 and Russel Eberst on April 24. The photo below shows one of my images from April 22, with USA 129 passing near Castor and Pollux:

click image to enlarge

Somewhere between that date and May 1, when various observers noted it missing, it disappeared.

There is a possibility that it has been de-orbitted, as it is over 17.5 years old now and appears to be 'redundant' after the launch of USA 245 and plane move of USA 186 (see various earlier posts on this blog). On the other hand, we should be cautious and not too hasty: in the recent past (Feb 2014) we erroneously wrote USA 129's eulogy before, and it turned out it had just manoeuvered. Maybe it did this time as well. A dedicated plane watch I did in the evening of 3 May between 20:41 -21:05 UT yielded nothing.

Meanwhile, we had expected USA 186 (2005-042A) to manoeuvre early May. But up to yesterday May 4th it hasn't. Maybe it will do in the coming days. On May 1st the difference in RAAN with the main West plane KH, USA 245, was 19.8 degrees. At a drift rate of 0.11 degrees/day, it reached 20 degrees the past weekend. If it hasn't manoeuvered by the end of the coming week, it will become interesting. Unfortunately, it is disappearing in evening twilight for my location these days.

The image below shows USA 186 crossing Canis minor in deep evening twilight of May 2nd:

click image to enlarge

I imaged USA 245 (2013-043A), the current main West plane KH-11, last Saturday evening. In evening twilight, it was visible in the same camera field with FIA Radar 1 (2010-046A):

click image to enlarge

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