Sunday, 20 September 2020

Observing the mysterious "Object A" (2020-063G), left in orbit by China's 'Spaceplane'


Earlier this month I wrote a post about China's brand new, recently launched and landed 'Reusable Test Spacecraft' (2020-063A), probably a 'Spaceplane' similar to the US  X-37B. It was launched on September 4 from Jiuquan, and landed on September 6 at Lop Nor, after two days on orbit (see a previous post).

As I noted near the end of that post, it left something in orbit: an object of unknown character, which the US Military tracking network now calls 'Object A' (a bit confusing I think, as the COSPAR code is 2020-063G - so I'd called it 'Object G'). It is in a 347 x 331 km orbit.

click diagram to enlarge

This does not appear to be just a piece of debris - e.g. some discarded cover. Radio observers discovered that it sends a signal in the L-band near 2280 MHz, something debris doesn't do. So, this appears to be an interesting object that had or has some function, including a radio data signal downlink. It does not appear to have manoeuvered so far, and if it is tumbling (see below) it isn't likely to do so..

I initially thought that it might be a cubesat, but it appears to be rather large for that. At maximum brightness it reaches magnitude +4, i.e. it is visible to the naked eye. Speculation is that it is either an inspector satellite used to inspect the outside of the Chinese spaceplane before landing: or maybe some jettisoned support module. The ejection from the 'Reusable Test Spacecraft' appears to have taken place some two revolutions before landing, or perhaps even earlier (see brief analysis at the bottom of a previous post).

I filmed the object this morning with the WATEC 902H equipped with a 1.8/50 mm lens - see the movie above. The mysterious object showed slow but marked brightness variations, between magnitude +4 and invisible (= fainter than +7). This confirms reports by radio observers of periodic fading in the signal.

Below is the brightness curve that I extracted from my video, using LiMovie. I was handtracking the object, and halfway lost it for over half a minute when it became too faint for the WATEC 902H (equipped with a 1.8/50 mm lens): hence the half-minute gap in the curve. The other, smaller gaps in the curve are moments that I repositioned the camera. One of these days, I really have to start using a motorized mount tracking on the satellite for this kind of endeavours.

The curve shows two brightness peaks, and two major fading episodes. Peak-to-peak period is about 80 seconds, so if this is due to a tumble, it is a slow tumble.

click diagram to enlarge

When I first picked it up (it had just come out of earth shadow), it initially was very bright and steady (see the movie in top of this post). But then it started to get fainter, untill I momentarily lost it. When I picked it up again, it was becoming brighter again, and after a slow peak, it faded again to invisibility. The fades are faster than the brightening phase and brightest phase.


Unknown said...

MooreSwansonSkywatch captures similar UAP's lately in 2020. Check us out on YouTube.

Pradeep Mohandas said...

Hello Marco,

Thank you so much for this post.

I was just searching for this network band and found that the range from 2200 to 2290 is used for "tracking, telemetry, and control data communications for control of spacecraft". Link - This is from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, USA. I only wanted to ask if this has since changed?


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