Monday 29 January 2024

An upcoming British Royal Navy Trident SLBM test in the Atlantic [UPDATED]

click map to enlarge

Over the past month, there was much anticipation for a (almost certainly) British Royal Navy Trident-II D5 SLBM test in the Atlantic. The arrival of the British nuclear ballistic missile armed submarine HMS Vanguard and several support ships at Port Canaveral in the past weeks suggested as much. Port Canaveral is the home base for such Trident SLBM tests.

And now the corresponding Navigational Warnings have appeared, for the period January 30 - Feb 4.

290215Z JAN 24
   A. 29-00.00N 079-56.00W, 29-05.00N 079-35.00W,
      29-00.00N 079-07.00W, 28-38.00N 079-06.00W,
      28-36.00N 079-33.00W, 28-42.00N 079-52.00W.
   B. 28-28.00N 076-03.00W, 28-19.00N 075-04.00W,
      28-06.00N 075-07.00W, 28-16.00N 076-01.00W.
   C. 27-03.00N 069-40.00W, 27-20.00N 069-37.00W,
      26-58.00N 068-02.00W, 26-43.00N 068-05.00W.
   D. 19-42.00N 050-06.00W, 20-19.00N 049-55.00W,
      19-02.00N 046-24.00W, 18-23.00N 046-46.00W.
   E. 08-32.00N 031-06.00W, 08-39.00N 031-01.00W,
      08-03.00N 028-55.00W, 06-43.00N 027-40.00W,
      05-49.00N 028-16.00W, 05-59.00N 028-34.00W,
      05-25.00N 028-53.00W, 06-25.00N 029-17.00W.
3. CANCEL THIS MSG 040456Z FEB 24.

I have depicted the five hazard zones from this Navigational Warning (also issued as HYDROLANT 214/24, and a re-issue of an earlier warning that had a typo in the coordinates of Area A) in the map in top of this post. Area A is the launch area. Areas B, C and D are the splash-down zones of the first, second and third stages. Area E is the RV target area.

The launch is from one of two standard test firing areas, some 80-90 km in front of the coast of Florida (see also this earlier post). The launch will be visible from Florida, so from previous experience I expect it to generate a number of 'UFO' reports from eyewitnesses who don't know what they are seeing.

The first thing of note is that the range of this test, at approximately 5900 km, is rather short compared to other Trident tests.

That can be seen in the map below, which depicts the RV target area of this test along with the target areas of earlier Trident-II D5 tests fired from the same test launch area 1.

click map to enlarge

Whereas the other RV target areas are at latitudes 9 S to 18 S, the target area for this test is much more north, near latitude 7 N, i.e. a range some 3000-5000 km short of earlier tests. It is effectively about half the range of a typical Trident test.

HMS Vanguard (S28) has recently come out of a long 7.5 years maintenance overhaul and refuel period, and this test likely is part of its recertification as an operational SLBM submarine. The Royal British Navy has four Vanguard-class submarines in active service. Each of them carries 16 Trident-II D5 missiles.

In June 2016, the previous Royal British Navy Trident missile test, a Trident test-fired from HMS Vengeance, went awry when the missile veered into the wrong direction (towards Florida) after launch: according to newspaper The Guardian because if was given wrong trajectory information. It had to be destroyed in flight. That test targetted a target area just east-southeast of Ascension Island. I guess some nervous officials will watch the upcoming launch carefully with their finger on the destruct button.

UPDATE 21 Feb 2024:

The missile test failed, according to UK Media (.e.g. BBC here and The Sun here). It appears that the first stage did not ignite after missile ejection from the submarine. As a result, the missile plunged back into sea close to the submarine. The test was reportedly witnessed by the UK Defense Secretary Shapps and the Commander of the Royal Navy, so I guess there was a lot of Stiff Upper Lip that day, with some "Ow well, that's unfortunate Old Boy...".
A previous UK Royal Navy test launch, in 2016, failed as well (see discussion above in blogpost).

Thursday 4 January 2024

2023 at a glance

click to enlarge

First of all, a Happy, Healthy and Clear 2024 to all the readers of this blog!

The past year has been an active and productive year. I did optical observations on 50 nights, gathering 14069 astrometric positions on 108 objects, of which 73 were classified objects.

2081 of these astrometric positions were obtained (on both classified and unclassified objects) as part of my regular observational activities. 

In addition to these, 6794 astrometric positions were obtained on the SWARM A, B and C satellites, as part of camera and timing accuracy calibrations (see this earlier post). And 5194 astrometric and photometric datapoints were gathered on BlueWalker 3, which - together with data from 2022 - are part of this study published in Nature.

The image in top of this post, shows all 14069 datapoints gathered in 2023 plotted on a star map. Red crosses are from my regular observing activities; blue crosses are data on BlueWalker 3; and green crosses are data on the SWARM satellites. The diagram below shows the distribution of observing nights over the year:


The past year had several personal and observational highlights. These include:

1. My Lecturer position at the Delft Technical University Faculty of Aerospace Engineering became a permanent position

2. I was co-author to this study published in Nature, on the high brightness of BlueWalker 3

3. Observing the RNLAF cubesats BRIK-II, HUYGENS and BIRELAND (see this post)

4. Being filmed for a very nice 40-minute documentary by the Dutch TV program FOCUS about 'War in Space', for which we filmed at the RNLAF headquarters and my home.

5. Being filmed, as one of three specialists, for this very nice short informative video by the 'University of the Netherlands' on 'War in Space', part of an informative web-series called 'Voorkennis' ('foreknowledge'):

6. Recovering several high altitude objects not seen for a while by our network, including USA 310, PAN and several other GEO and HEO objects.

7. Forecasting the reentries of the North Korean satellites Kwangmyŏngsŏng (KMS) 3-2  and 4

8. Forecasting the reentry of the TU Delft cubesat Delfi-C3.


screenshot from the NTR FOCUS tv documentary (me at left, Major Wijnja at right)


Apart from the already mentioned Nature paper, I also published this Conference Contribution on the work of our network of Independent Satellite Observers, the result of partin g in the 2nds NEO and Debris Conference in Darmstadt in January.

I have been in the media several times on topics including Starlink and the war in Ukraine, Starlink and the quick rise of the number of objects in orbit, space debris in general, the reentry of two North Korean satellites, and the Launcher One mishap, as well as a number of missile tests.

During the second part of the year, I had the opportunity to gather data on MEO, HEO and GEO objects while testing a prototype tracking camera that in 2024 will be placed on the roof of the TU Delft Faculty of Aerospace Engineering. The imagesbelow were obtained with this camera.

6U cubesat Huygens imaged on 7 Sept 2023. Click to enlarge

following the movements of PAN/NEMESIS-1. Click image to enlarge

Russian SIGINT satellite LUCH (OLYMP) 2. Click image to enlarge