Subject:      Titan IV object observed (Was: Pre-solstice spysat launches): long
From:         [email protected] (Allen Thomson)
Date:         1996/12/30
Message-Id:   <[email protected]>

   When I posted the query on pre-solstice spysat launches, I noted that

>   I certainly don't know of any case in which a polar Vandenberg
>   launch near the northern winter solstice has been spotted by other
>   than a northern hemisphere observer the following Spring.

   Well, I spoke a few hours too soon.  According to subsequent traffic
on the SeeSat-L mailing list, an object that appears to be associated
with the 20 December 1996 Titan-IV launch out of Vandenberg has been
observed several times by an observer in Adelaide.  The redoubtable
Ted Molczan has worked out some preliminary orbital elements for it,
and has given me permission to post the information here in the hopes
of encouraging other Southern Hemisphere (or daylight-capable Northern
Hemisphere) observers to report sightings.  Please try to get right 
ascension, declination, and time as precisely as possible.  Reports
like "crossed the line connecting Beta and Gamma Librae an estimated
3/4 of the way toward Gamma at hhmmss.s dd mm yy UT" are useful also.

                       BEGIN MOLCZAN MESSAGE

From: Ted Molczan <[email protected] >
To: "'SeeSat-L'" <[email protected] >
Subject: Object observed from recent Titan 4 launch
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 1996 02:07:07 -0500
Over the past few days, Anthony Beresford has provided me with several 
observation reports of an object that I believe originated with the 
Titan 4 launched from VAFB on 20 Dec 1996 at 18:04 UTC. 
The object is precisely in the standard KeyHole western orbital plane, 
but its orbital dimensions are not standard, and it appears to be much 
brighter than a KeyHole (approx std mag = 3, 1000 km range, 50 percent 
The orbit is visible in the S. hemisphere at latitudes south of about 35 
S. One purpose of this message is to encourage other S. hemisphere 
observers to obtain accurate positional measurements and estimates. (See 
search orbit at end of this message.) 
Another purpose is to provide other analysts besides myself an 
opportunity to contribute to understanding this object, especially its 
orbit. This analysis could benefit greatly from an understanding of 
high-drag orbits. I begin with a summary of Anthony's observations, 
NASA's NORAD catalogue information, and conclude with my own analysis, 
preliminary orbital elements, and comments. 
Observations by Anthony Beresford


Anthony did attempt to post his initial report to SeeSat-L, but for some 
reason it did not appear. Since then, we have corresponded directly, and 
have copied several other Southern Hemisphere observers. For the benefit 
of analysts on SeeSat-L, here the relevant excerpts from Anthony's 
sighting reports. 
24 Dec 1996

>On the evening of Dec 24 (local time) I observed a high object
>coming up from the South and bisecting the line between Archenar and
>Overhead at 1254 UT ( + or - 1 minute). Disappeared into shadow at
>50 degrees elevation in the North. Calculations reveal shadow height
>was 710Km. Brightness steady at mag 2.5-3 .
>The time on Dec 24 came from reading my wristwatch, when
>I came back into ligt Ted. Its 17 seconds slow on UTC at momemnt
>and only varies by about a 1.5 seconds a month. I read the watch
>when it said 23:26:30 [=12:56:30 UTC] or so, and worked backwards, so
>timimg errors cant be late. I was wondering the identification myself.
>Last night I stayed outside till 13:00 just to see if something else turned
26 Dec 1996

>Tonite saw similar object in similar path. Timed at RA 4 h 25min, dec
>at 12h 56m 17s UT .Sowhat objects in polar orbit or higher inclination
>do we know with nodal periods very close to 13.5 or 14.5 revs /day.
>Could it be the Titan-4 launch of a few days ago.
> Observer situated at 34.96S, 138.66 E ( cospar 8597)
27 Dec 1996

>Saw it again tonite Ted had binoculars, but
>I didnt press stopwatch hard enough to start it.
>So apart from saying it was 1251 UT overhead,
>I cant say much more. It was 7 minutes earlier than
>predictions based on the elements you sent me.
>If anything its maximum brightness tonite was
>mag 2.0, an easy naked eye object.
28 Dec 1996

>object tracked reached mag 2.5 high (70 deg in Eastern sky)
>Postion near Canopus timed at 12h 46 min 13.8 sec UTC
>                   RA 6h 10.0 min     )
>                   Dec -55deg 05 min  )  Epoch 2000
>After getting time. I continued watching orbit
>pane till 1302UTC and saw nothing more.
29 Dec 1996
>I saw the usual bright ( mag 2.5)
>object at 1238UT RA 7h 08.0 min, dec -49.2 degs. The postion is
>accurate but the time is only  + or - 20secs.
>After getting back out at 1248 I watched till 1311 UT. Only other
>object I saw was Lacrosse 2 heading S.
NORAD Catalogue
NORAD has catalogued two objects from the 20 Dec launch, as would be
expected. Presumably, the second object is the Titan 2nd stage.
Also, I note that there is an 18 object gap immediately after the second 
Titan-launch object. Most likely, this will turn to be debris from an 
unrelated launch. If it turns out to be from this launch, then that 
would be significant. I am not aware of any debris having been 
catalogued from a KeyHole sun-synchronous launch. 
1996 072A  USA 129     24680     US    20 DEC      ELEMENTS NOT AVAILABLE
1996 072B              24681     US    20 DEC      ELEMENTS NOT AVAILABLE
1995 062C              24700    ESA    17 NOV      ELEMENTS NOT AVAILABLE
1996 073A  BION 11     24701    CIS    24 DEC    90.4   62.8      378    217
1996 073B              24702    CIS    24 DEC      ELEMENTS NOT AVAILABLE
My Analysis
Using the observations of 24, 26 and 27 Dec, I derived my first preliminary
99999A          15.0  3.0  0.0  3.0 v
1 99999U 99999  A 96361.53908565  .02800000  00000-0  95384-3 0    01
2 99999  97.9100  61.6000 0575000 152.0000 168.4000 15.05000000    01
This is a pretty good fit to the data. The times of the observed events 
are reproduced to the observed precision, typically one minute. On the 
24th, the shadow entry occurs at about 50 deg elevation, as observed, 
but the azimuth is about 10 deg east of the observation. Also, the 
bisection of Canopus-Archenar is not exact, also somewhat east of the 
observation. Anthony advises that those angles were not very precise. 
The above elset is extremely close to the standard western KeyHole 
plane, moreover, none of the known sun-synchronous objects near this 
plane coincided with the observations. The shadow entry helped to 
determine the eccentricity and the argument of perigee, because its 
elevation was very sensitive to those variables. Precessing the argument 
of perigee 5.8 day back to the time of launch yields about 173 deg, in 
close agreement with past launches. A launch from VAFB, with insertion 
into an elliptical parking orbit produces an argument of perigee between 
about 160 and 175 deg, depending on the mission. 
I am not aware of any previous observations of KeyHole objects so soon 
after launch, so I do not know the typical evolution of the orbits. From 
U.S. reports to the U.N.; and Tass/Itar, I do have the following 
dimensions of the Titan 2nd stage orbits, presumably very soon after 
Object  Inc   Per   Apo  Period Source
87090B  97.8  143  1018   96.3   U.S.
88099B  97.9  154  1008   96.3   U.S.
92083B  97.7  156   911   96.4   U.S.
95066?  98.7  156   976   95.7   TASS
Heights are in km, and period is in minutes.
The perigee of 92083B, is my revision. The U.N. report stated 256 km, 
but this was almost certainly a typo. My value closely fits with the 
orbital period. (The U.S. submissions to the U.N. have been found to 
have numerous errors of this sort.) Regarding 95066, the article implied 
the payload, but the orbit could have been either the Titan 2nd stage 
or the payload. Also, the period is too low , and the inclination was 
too high. 
So generally, the KeyHoles have entered parking orbits of about 156 x 
1000 km, at nearly 97.9 deg inclination. All that was required to attain 
the standard orbit, was to raise the perigee to about 270 km altitude. 
My first preliminary orbit had dimensions of about 160 x 957 km, which 
agrees closely with these orbits; however, that was 5.8 days after 
launch. Taking into account the ndot/2 decay term of 0.028 rev/day^2, 
the initial orbit would have been about 160 x 1160 km. The apogee is 
quite a bit higher than that of a standard KeyHole, which I find 
strange. Why would they launch into such a high apogee, and then allow 
drag to eat up nearly 200 km of it? 
The observations of the 28th and 29th added their own problems. The 
first preliminary orbit does not fit them well, mainly because it 
predicts much earlier passes than were observed. My second preliminary 
orbit has epoch on 28 Dec: 
99989A          15.0  3.0  0.0  3.0 v
1 99989U 99989  A 96363.53210417  .02300000  00000-0  57503-3 0    09
2 99989  97.9100  63.6600 0570000 145.0000 176.4000 15.07500000    01
This fits the 27, 28 and 29th well, but there are some puzzling aspects:
- the mean ndot/2 since the first preliminary elset is 0.00625 rev/day^2,
  yet actual decay rate has only decreased from 0.028 to 0.023 rev/day^2.
  This suggests a small manoeuvre took place on or after the 26th.
- by the time of the obs on the 29th, the mean motion would have been about
  15.121 rev/d, implying an orbit of 160 x 913 km. That is a great deal of
  decay since the initial parking orbit, and much lower apogee than a
  Kh orbit.
One argument is that this is really the rocket body, but in that case, 
why did it apparently manoeuvre between the 26th and 28th? Also, why is 
so much brighter than a Titan 2nd stage is known to be? The standard 
magnitude of previous stages was about 4.8; this object's is around 3. 
Also, why is it not flashing? All past  Titan 2 stages observed by 
hobbyists (90050B, 91017B, 91076B, 96029B and 96038B) flashed, all 
except 91017B had initial periods between 1 and 6 seconds; 91017B's was 
between 10 and 20 s. 
If this is the payload, then why has it been allowed to decay so much 
since launch 9 days earlier? Also, why is so bright? Kh's 92083A and 
95066A are not normally magnitude 2 to 2.5 near apogee, even under the 
best circumstances. There std mag is about 5; this object's seems to be 
about 3. Perhaps its orientation is unusual. 
Finally, I have considered the possibility that the orbit is closer to 
14.07 rev/day than 15.07 rev day. In that case, I would expect to be 
nearly circular. The following elset roughly fits the obs of 26-29th, 
but not well enough to argue that it is correct: 
99991A          15.0  3.0  0.0  3.0 v
1 99991U 99991  A 96361.53908565  .00000000  00000-0  00000-0 0    03
2 99991  98.9093  60.8000 0000000   0.0000 321.7000 14.06700000    02
Southern hemisphere observers are advised to use the following orbit
for searching:
99989A          15.0  3.0  0.0  3.0 v
1 99989U 99989  A 96363.53210417  .02300000  00000-0  57503-3 0    09
2 99989  97.9100  63.6600 0570000 145.0000 176.4000 15.07500000    01
Allow at *least* a 10 minute uncertainty.
Be prepared for anything. If the object suddenly manoeuvres to its 
standard orbit of 270 x 1000 km, then it will arrive about 23 min later 
each day. Also, be on the lookout for a second object near this object's 
orbit. Ideally, should consist of precise timings of precise positional 
sky coordinates. Please include time and location of shadow entry. Also, 
please note colour and magnitude and flash period. 
Post your observations to SeeSat-L, or e-mail them directly to me.
Clear skies!
Ted Molczan
                          END MOLCZAN MESSAGE