Friday 24 June 2016

MUOS 5 GTO insertion and Centaur fuel dump imaged from Australia

click to enlarge
image (c) Paul Camilleri - used with permission

The spectacular image above was kindly made available to me by Paul Camilleri from Warners Bay in Australia. Taken around 18:03 UT using a 180 mm lens, it shows the just launched MUOS 5 satellite and the associated Centaur upper stage: the latter is venting fuel creating a "comet-like" cloud.

The image was made some 40 minutes after MUOS 5 separated from the Centaur stage (separation happened at ~17:23 UT). The two objects were at an altitude of ~30 000 km at that time, in a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).

Following separation, the Centaur upper stage had made a Collision and Contamination Avoidance Manoeuvre (CCAM) and next started to dump exces fuel in order to reduce the risk of later on-orbit explosions. This fuel-venting causes the comet-like cloud. MUOS 5 itself is visible as a small trail just under the Centaur and its fuel cloud.

Two other classified objects are, by chance, visible in the image as well: Milstar 4 and USA 155. Like MUOS 5, Milstar 4 is a military communications satellite: USA 155 is an SDS data relay satellite.

MUOS 5 was launched today at 14:30 UT (24 June 2016) from Cape Canaveral, using an Atlas V rocket with a Centaur upper stage. For a timeline and details, see here.

Over the next couple of days, MUOS 5 will use its own engines to make a series of orbit raising manoeuvres, followed by an orbit circularization to bring it in a ~5-degree inclined Geosynchronous orbit. Most likely it will initially be placed in a check-out position near longitude 172 W: I observed MUOS 4 in this position last year.

After 5 months or so, when check-out is completed, it will next be moved to longitude 72 E, where it will be parked as an on-orbit spare in the MUOS constellation (see also my earlier post on MUOS 4 here).

MUOS 5 is the fifth satellite in the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) system of Geosynchronous narrowband communication satellites. The first MUOS satellite was launched in 2012. This system of military COMSAT is to provide communication facilities to 'mobile users': i.e. military personel in non-fixed positions such as ships, aircraft, tanks and vehicles or on foot. It is a replacement for the aging UFO constellation of COMSAT and will be able to be used by legacy UFO equipment.

The MUOS system now consists of four operational satellites (MUOS 1 to 4) and MUOS 5 as said is to function as an on-orbit spare. According to a publication by Oeting et al. in the Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest 30:2 of 2011, it will be parked at 72 E for this purpose.

I thank Paul Camilleri for permission to feature his splendid image!

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