Monday, 14 June 2021

USA 224 has manoeuvered

During the night of June 12-13, I was doing a periodic checkup on the KH-11 Advanced Enhanced CRYSTAL satellites  USA 224 (2011-002A) and USA 314 (2021-032A) that occupy the KH-11 primary East plane. This because I expect USA 224 to manoeuvre to the secondary East plane at some point this summer, now USA 314 has recently been launched into its orbital plane as a replacement (see discussion in my earlier blogpost here).

USA 224 did not appear at the nominal time on June 13 but some 2m 20s late, indicating a manoeuvre.

Observations by David Brierley and me on June 12/13 and 13/14 have established this preliminary post-manoeuvre orbit:

USA 224                                                  255 x 998 km
1 37348U 11002A   21165.00715133 0.00014912  00000-0  12302-3 0    05
2 37348  97.8892 276.6083 0530502 157.6427 204.8870 14.81006602    06

It is clear that this is not the big plane-changing manoeuver expected, but a small regular orbit upkeeping manoeuvre: apogee was raised by some 10 km. 

From the pre- and post-manoeuvre orbit,  I calculate that the manoeuvre took place on Thursday June 10 near 14:14 UT, over the Atlantic, during crossing through the descending node and perigee. 

As usual, the manoeuvre happened while perigee was situated over the equator (when the Mean Anomaly is near 180 degrees, this is always a moment to watch out for manoeuvres). This allows to make adjustments in both orbital altitude and inclination in the same burn, with a minimum expense of fuel.

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