Tuesday, 4 October 2022

PAN is moving back westwards again


click diagram to enlarge

In September 2021 I wrote a blogpost noting that the enigmatic geosynchronous SIGINT satellite PAN/NEMESIS I (2009-047A) had left 47.7 E and was drifting eastwards. By 30 August 2022 it had drifted as far as 63.1 E.

But somewhere in September 2022, it reversed its drift and started to move Westwards again. Greg Roberts in South Africa recovered it on 30 September 2022 at 55.7 E after he looked for it in vain at more eastward positions.

From tracking data over the period May 2021 - August 2022, PAN was drifting eastwards at a rate of about 0.27 degrees/day. The drift started late February 2021.

It subsequently must have rapidly moved West again, by at least 0.23 degrees/day. It is not clear yet whether the drift continues, or if it is now stable at 55.7 E. Future observations will tell.

At the time of the eastward drift, I was not sure whether the drift was deliberate or the result of an operational "end-of-life". With the halt of the drift and subsequent rapid move westwards this month, it seems to me that the drift was deliberate and the satellite is still operational.

PAN/NEMESIS I was launched in 2009 and is a SIGINT satellite with a very unusual role. As the diagram in top of this post shows, it frequently relocated between late 2009 and late 2013 (which was very unusual), stalking a number of commercial communications satellites and eavesdropping on them. By 2014, this behaviour suddenly stopped, and for a long time it was kept at a stable position near 47.7 E, untill it started to drift in February 2021.

Six years ago I wrote an in-depth article on this enigmatic satellite for The Space Review that you can read here.

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