Monday, 14 December 2015

Imaging Geostationary satellites, and PAN's past relocations

Last week saw some clear evenings, and I used one of them to image some geostationary satellites. It concerned "the usual suspects": MENTOR's, MERCURY's and the enigmatic, probably SIGINT satellite PAN (2009-047A). The latter satellite has not been moved for quite a while now: since the end of 2013 it is at longitude 47.7 E, parked close to a number of commercial comsats. In the past it was frequently relocated, taking positions next to various commercial COMSATS. In four years time between 2009-2013, it moved at least 9 times (which is a lot) to various longitudes between 33 E and 52.5 E.

PAN amidst several commercial COMSATS on 9 December 2015 (click to enlarge)

The diagram below charts these frequent movements of PAN. Relocations typically took place about once every 6 months. Late 2013, they stopped. PAN however must still be operational, as active station-keeping is necessary for it to stay at 47.7 E.

relocations of PAN over time, 2009-2015 (click to enlarge)

Four other SIGINT satellites and a military comsat were imaged as well: Mentor 4 (2009-001A) and Mentor 6 (2012-034A), Mercury 1 (1994-054A) and Mercury 2 (1996-026A), and the military comsat Milstar 5 (2002-001A).

Mentor 4, next to commercial comsat Thuraya 2 on 9 Dec 2015 (click to enlarge)

Mentor 6 and a number of commercial satellites, close to the Orion nebula, on 9 Dec 2015

Using the remote telescope at Warrumbungle (MPC Q65) in Australia, I recently (4 December 2015) also checked-up on the recently launched US Navy COMSAT MUOS 4 (2015-044A). It is still at its check-out location over the Pacific at longitude 172 W, but some recent press statements suggest check-out has been successfully completed, and it will be moved to its operational position at longitude 75 E near India in the spring of 2016.

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