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Original Subject: Jonathan's Space Report, No. 501
Original Date: Fri, 6 Jun 2003 10:14:34 -0400 (EDT)
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Jonathan's Space Report
No. 501 2003 Jun 6, Cambridge, MA
Thanks to all those who wrote sending good wishes on the occasion of JSR500.
Shuttle and Station
The Expedition 7 crew, Yuriy Malenchenko and Edward Lu, are on board the
Space Station. Soyuz TMA-2 is docked to the Station and acts as the crew
Atlantis was destacked from its boosters in March and returned to the
Orbiter Processing Facility on Mar 14 for storage. Discovery and
Endeavour are in the other two OPF bays. My guess is that Shuttle
return to flight will be in early to mid 2004.
The Japanese USERS satellite has returned to Earth. The SEM service
module separated from the REM reentry module at 1906 UTC on May 29, the
rocket motor fired at 2045 UTC into a -110 x 450 km orbit and splashdown
was estimated to be at 2123 UTC, near the Ogasawara Islands. The planned
location was 151.5E 22.5N. The 2002-42A designation has remained with
the reentry module, and the SEM was cataloged as 2002-42H in a 474 x 489
km orbit; the last orbit for the USERS spacecraft was May 28 in a
slightly lower 473 x 484 km orbit. (Thanks to Tomoko Steen for
translations of the USERS web site!)
Europe's first Mars probe is on its way. Mars Express was launched from
Baykonur in Kazakhstan by a Starsem Soyuz-FG with a Fregat upper stage
on Jun 2 at 1745 UTC. The Soyuz-FG rocket put ME/Fregat into a
marginally orbital trajectory upon third stage cutoff at 1754 UTC; I
estimate (-1 +/- 20) x 200 km x 51.8 deg. The third stage then fell in
the Pacific as Fregat made its first burn, with main engine start at
1755 UTC for a 21-second burn to a 177 x 177 km x 51.8 deg orbit. At
1903 UTC the Fregat made its second, main, burn for 14 minutes into
solar orbit. At 1917 UTC Fregat separated, and later made a third burn
to ensure it will miss Mars. This was the first launch of Fregat as an
upper stage with the uprated Soyuz-FG rocket.
Mars Express has a mass of 555 kg dry, together with 427 kg of
propellant and the 60 kg Beagle 2 lander for a total of 1042 kg
(although the Russian Space Agency reports the mass was 1120 kg).
Instruments include MARSIS, the first subsurface radar sounder flown on
a probe since Apollo 17; HRSC, a high resolution color camera; OMEGA, an
infrared sensor; Planetary Fourier Spectrometer, operating in the
millimeter range for molecular studies; SPICAM, studying an ultraviolet
ozone absorption line and an infrared water line; ASPERA-3 measuring the
particle environment; and the Mars Radio Science experiment using the
radio transmitter. ME carries a 400N propulsion engine similar to those
used on Spacebus communications satellites, and will enter an elliptical
polar orbit around Mars.
Russia launched a Parus-class navigation satellite, Kosmos-2398, from
Plesetsk on Jun 4 aboard an 11K65M Kosmos-3M two-stage light launch
vehicle. The satellite entered a 969 x 1014 km x 83.0 deg orbit.
Registration of satellites with the UN
I have updated the UN registry tables on my web site:
and the league of shame of unregistered satellites at
The UK has notified the UN (UN document ST/SG/SER.E/417/Rev.1) that it
licenses Inmarsat Ltd. (London) to operate the INMARSAT satellites, and
provides information on them suitable for registration, but explicitly
denies that it is the state of registry for the purposes of the
registration convention. This is a bit odd, since even though Inmarsat
Ltd. used to be an intergovernmental organization, it has always been
headquartered in London. So it's a bit hard to see what other country
the state of registry could be (historically, intergovernmental
organizations have been registered by their host countries unless and
until they establish their own registries with the UN, which INMARSAT
never did). Sounds to me like the UK is trying to get out of its legal
liability for these satellites. The UK is now doing ITU filings for the
now-privatized and Bermuda-located Intelsat, so it should register those
satellites too. Meanwhile the US did retrospectively register three
Space Shuttle flights from the early 1990s that had been omitted
accidentally (STS 44 and 66 are still missing).
The Mission Profile of USAF Program 827 (CANYON)
As part of an effort to improve the list of objects in the geostationary
altitude regime (of interest due to orbital debris concerns), I have
been taking another look at what is known of the CANYON communications
intelligence satellite program.
CANYON was the first geosynchronous signals intelligence satellite,
launched from 1968 to 1977 as part of NRO's Program A and developed by
the US Air Force. The program was highly classified (and remains so
even over 20 years after program completion) and for many years analysts
thought they were a first-generation DSP early warning satellite.
Launches under the Program 827 designation were carried out by the
uprated Atlas SLV-3A/Agena D rocket from Cape Canaveral. CANYON's
successors have flown under the designations CHALET, VORTEX and MERCURY;
official statements following the last MERCURY launch failure imply that
despite these code name changes, and several spacecraft block changes,
these satellites are all considered part of a single geostationary
communications intelligence program. It is conjectured that the CANYON
spacecraft features a cylindrical bus of order 1.5m in diameter attached
to one or more large antennas; it is thought to have transmitted its
data to a ground station at Bad Aibling in Germany. I will not speculate
on the detailed mission or capabilities of the spacecraft, although it
is not a huge leap to assume the synchronous orbits were mostly
stationed at longitudes allowing surveillance of the USSR and China.
There were seven CANYON launches, as follows:
Satellite Launch vehicle S/N Pad Launch Date
CANYON 1 AFP-827 F1 (7501) Atlas Agena D (5501A) CC LC13 1968 Aug 6
CANYON 2 AFP-827 F2 (7502) Atlas Agena D (5502A) CC LC13 1969 Apr 13
CANYON 3 AFP-827 F3 (7503) Atlas Agena D (5203A) CC LC13 1970 Sep 1
CANYON 4 AFP-827 F4 (7504) Atlas Agena D (5503A) CC LC13 1971 Dec 4
CANYON 5 AFP-827 F5 (7505) Atlas Agena D (5204A) CC LC13 1972 Dec 20
CANYON 6 AFP-827 F6 (7506) Atlas Agena D (5506A) CC LC13 1975 Jun 18
CANYON 7 AFP-827 F7 (7507) Atlas Agena D (5507A) CC LC13 1977 May 23
(There is some confusion about the last launch; it is just possible
that the 1977 May 23 launch is an AFP-472 Aquacade and that CANYON 7 was
the launch of 1977 Dec 11, although photographs of the launch shroud
tend to support the list given here).
CANYON 4 was lost in a launch failure. There are several sources of
data giving clues as to the operational profile of the other CANYON
1) Orbital data provided to the United Nations - this is patchy
and sometimes erroneous. (Note: at best, the UN data gives only
orbit height and inclination, not a full TLE set which would
allow determination of the satellite's position).
2) Orbital data published by the Royal Aircraft Establishment.
3) Entries (without orbital data) in the Space Command satellite catalog.
4) A comment in Aerospace Daily, 1969 Nov 6, cited in a letter by Geoff
Richards to Spaceflight (37.316) in 1995, indicated that
two Agenas "had performed the coast to geosynchronous orbit, where
they were providing power and attitude control to their payloads".
(I'd love a fax of the page from Aerospace Daily if anyone has it)
First let us review the UN data. CANYON 1,2,3, 5, and 6 are given
ID Period Peri Apo Inc
1968-63A 1436.0 31680 x 39862 x 9.9
1969-36A 1436.0 32672 x 39251 x 10.2
1970-69A 1441.9 31947 x 39855 x 10.3
1972-101A 1440.4 31012 x 40728 x 9.7
1975-55A 1422.0 30200 x 40800 x 9.0
These distinctive orbits are near-geosynchronous but elliptical and inclined,
and seem to be a fingerprint of the CANYON program (and possibly some of
its successors). No geosynchronous orbit is given for CANYON 7:
1977-38A 739.0 191 x 40980 x 27.1
is a plausible transfer orbit; around this time the US began the
practice of only giving transfer orbit data for many classified satellites,
even if the satellite was only in that orbit very briefly.
However, in Nov 1984 an extra object was cataloged with this launch, 1977-38C:
1977-38C 1440.0 34325 x 34500 x 0.3
This is a bit worrying, since the orbit is much more circular and
equatorial than the CANYON payloads - it makes me a bit concerned that
1977-38 might not be a CANYON, but only a bit since my confidence in the
UN data's reliability is low. My guess is that the cataloging of 38C may
reflect an end-of-life event rather than improved sensors tracking an
existing object, and so it may have been ejected around the time it was
The most interesting piece of data is the orbit given for 1975-55B, the
Agena rocket stage for CANYON 6:
1975-55B 1416.0 29700 x 40400 x 8.0
This orbit is similar to the payload, but indicates some small
maneuver to separate from it. What about the other Agena stages?
The final stages for CANYON 1, 2 and 3 were never cataloged - until May
2003! No orbital data were released, so all we can deduce from this is
that in 2003 the Agenas from these launches were believed to be still in
orbit and separate from their payloads. CANYON 5's Agena was cataloged
at the time of launch and an orbit identical to the payload was given to
the UN. Sometimes for classified launches the US gives the same orbit
for each piece of a launch whether or not those individual pieces were
ever in that orbit, so I don't think this is definitive proof that the
CANYON 5 Agena was in a 1440 minute orbit - but it is strongly suggestive.
CANYON 7's Agena is given the same transfer orbit as its payload.
The RAE gives 'Orbit similar to 1970-46B' (a RHYOLITE Agena in GTO) for
1970-69B; clearly this is a guess and should be discounted. For
1972-101B, they give a 200 x 33370 km x 28.12 deg orbit marked
'approximate', probably also a guess. For 1975-55B they give the UN
orbit but misidentify the launch as a Titan. For 1977-38 they give
'approximate' orbits which may also be discounted. In general, it
appears the RAE did not have access to any data beyond the UN filings.
What can we conclude? I present three scenarios. In all cases, we can
assume that the Agena performed an insertion burn to low parking
orbit with an inclination of 28 degrees, followed by a second burn
to geostationary transfer orbit and coast to geostationary altitude.
Scenario 1: The Agena separated after the GTO burn and the payload
coasted separately to apogee, then used a solid kick motor (possibly
an Aerojet SVM-3, which is thought to have been used for a classified
program) to enter the operational orbit.
In favor of this scenario is that no other Agenas ever made an
apogee burn (although they are certainly capable of it); it's the
most obvious scenario in the absence of other data, and it's the
guess that the RAE made.
Against this scenario is the orbit given for 1975-55B, and the
comments in Aerospace Daily,
Scenario 2: For the first three missions, the Agena made the apogee
burn and remained attached to the payload throughout its lifetime and
For later missions, the payload gained weight and Scenario 1 was followed.
In favor of this scenario, the failure to catalog (until now) the
Agena rockets for the first three flights made it seem that they were
different, and that there was no separate Agena. This would be a
natural evolution from other contemporary classified Agena missions
(e.g. MIDAS-RTS) in which the Agena provided a spacecraft bus for
extended duration missions. This scenario seemed the most plausible
until the recent cataloging of the missing Agenas.
However, it is just possible that this is an administrative cataloging
in a misguided attempt to clean up the books, with no actual tracking
data and an unverified assumption by Space Command that the Agenas did
separate. Furthermore, identifying tracked objects as associated with
a particular launch after a 30-year period is challenging. Therefore,
I now regard Scenario 2 as much less likely but not entirely ruled out.
Scenario 3: The Agena made the apogee burn. For the first three missions,
it may have remained attached to the spacecraft during operational
lifetime to provide attitude control, while the spacecraft's own
3-axis stabilization system was being debugged (This approach was used
with some of the early KH-7 spy satellites) and then separated later
in the mission. Alternatively, the Aerospace Daily reference may just
mean that it provided power during the GTO coast, and separation
happened as soon as the final orbit was reached.
For later missions, the Agena separation happened
right after the apogee burn. The payload had small thrusters to
adjust the orbit after Agena separation. The Agenas are left in orbits
similar to the one given for 1975-55B.
Scenario 3 seems to best fit the available data. Reviewing the data, it
seems clear that there is no convincing evidence that any of the CANYON
Agenas remained in geostationary transfer orbit. I therefore conclude
that the empty Agena D rocket stages from the CANYON launches are all
separate satellites in orbits of 1410-1450 minute period with original
inclinations of around 10 degrees, and typically 31000 x 40000 km x 10 deg.
I therefore plan to add these Agenas to my catalog of orbits
in the geosynchronous band.
I welcome comments on this analysis, with extra credit for anyone who
can identify what debris object 1977-38C might be.
Table of Recent Launches
Date UT Name Launch Vehicle Site Mission INTL.
May 8 1128 GSAT-2 GSLV Sriharikota Comms
May 9 0429 Hayabusa M-V Kagoshima Probe
May 13 2210 Hellas Sat 2 Atlas V 401 Canaveral SLC41 Comms
May 24 1634 Beidou CZ-3A Xichang Navigation
Jun 2 1745 Mars Express Soyuz-FG/Fregat Baykonur LC31 Probe
Jun 4 1923 Kosmos-2398 Kosmos-3M Plesetsk Navigation
| Jonathan McDowell | phone : (617) 495-7176 |
| Harvard-Smithsonian Center for | |
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