Thursday 14 May 2015


On 16 September 2014, the US military launched an enigmatic satellite (2014-055A) from Cape Canaveral into a geostationary orbit. It was not disclosed for which agency the object was launched (this is information that usually is disclosed). Nor what its function would be (this is information sometimes but not always disclosed). All we know is the rather uninformative name, CLIO, that it was built by Lockheed Martin and based on their commercial A-2100 bus.

CLIO imaged on May 13, 2015 (click image to enlarge)

CLIO is currently located at longitude 108.0 E, over Indonesia, where I imaged it yesterday using the 0.51-m telescope of Warrumbungle (MPC Q65) in Australia. The image can be seen above: CLIO is positioned just north of Telkom 1 (1999 042A), an Indonesian satellite for satellite telephony. (since Telkom 1 is also built on a Lockheed A2100 bus, the brightness difference in the image above is interesting, and probably due to different attitudes (orientations) of the satellites, although it potentially could also indicate custom components on CLIO, e.g. something like a large dish antenna).

click to enlarge

In many ways CLIO appears similar to another enigmatic satellite,  PAN (USA 207, 2009-047A), launched in September 2009 and infamous among our amateur tracking network for its frequent repositioning.

PAN was also built by Lockheed Martin and like CLIO based on the A-2100 bus. As with CLIO, the government agency behind it was not disclosed, and no indications of its role provided. What was known, is that PAN was developed and built rapidly (in less than 3 years time) using off-the-shelf commercial parts, apparently in response to an urgent need of some undisclosed government agency (which I suspect is either the CIA or NSA). Much speculation has occurred about the role of the spacecraft. The frequent relocations (which stopped at the end of 2013) make clear it is not a simple communications or early warning platform. PAN is currently located at longitude 47.9 E over east Africa.

Because of the similarities, several analysts believe that CLIO, five years after PAN, is a follow-on to the PAN program. The two satellites are currently 60 degrees separated in longitude.

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