Satellite Re-entries

Predicted Decays

Aerospace Corporation provides predictions of decays of satellites and substantial hardware within 5 days of predicted decay. A graphic of the decay plot is normally provided.

Table of Re-entry Sightings

Ted Molczan is working on a comprehensive tabulation of visual sightings of natural re-entries of Earth satellites. The
latest draft lists 269 re-entries, beginning with that of Sputnik 2 in April 1958, including dozens of previously unrecognized or unidentified sightings.

Ted has begun to produce detailed reports on some of the the more intrinsically and/or analytically interesting cases, which can be linked to via the following table. Re-entries are listed by date.

Date - UTC Description
1974 Aug 01 Nearly forgotten UFO sightings in Venezuela recently came to light and have now been identified as a re-entry.
1979 Aug 10 Sightings of fireballs and discovery of metal spheres in Bolivia.
2015 Nov 03 Sightings of fireballs and discovery of COPV spheres and other debris in Spain.

Memorable Decays

Here are some interesting past decays discussed on SeeSat-L:

  • On 2010 Feb 19, near 03:32 UTC, pieces of the second stage of the Delta II rocket of STSS Demo 1 and 2 (2009-052C / 35939), landed in Mongolia. This object had been in a secret orbit, but was discovered by Russell Eberst on 2009 Nov 23 UTC, a couple of months after launch. Hobbyists successfully tracked it to within hours of re-entry, resulting in the sole public history of precise orbital information on this object. The Research Center Astronomy and Geophysics (RCAG) of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, reported the coordinates of the fall: 105:07:38.3 E (105.12731) 47:10:57.1 N (47.18253), and provided photographs of the propellant tank and the titanium pressure sphere.
  • USA 193 was launched on 2006 Dec 14 UTC from Vandenburg AFB, into a secret orbit. It was quickly located by Russell Eberst, a member of the hobbyist group that was the sole public source of precise orbital information on this object. A news report in January 2007, that the satellite had failed within minutes of reaching of orbit, led Ted Molczan to issue the first decay estimate, which indicated that re-entry was little more than a year away. In January 2008, after the official accouncement of the impending decay, SeeSat-L remained the only source of public information on the precise orbit of the satellite. Following the announcement of the intention to destroy the satellite in orbit using a missile launched from a U.S. Navy ship, the NOTAM was first identified on SeeSat-L. The final precise observations were made less than 3 hours prior to the satellite's destruction, and we issued our final orbital update minutes before the event.
  • On 2004 June 27 UTC, SeeSat-L subscribers in the state of Pennsylvania and the province of Ontario, observed the decay of 1992-088E / 22273, a piece of operational debris from a Russian satellite launch, called a "BOZ ullage motor". Dan Deak posted a heads-up several hours in advance. SeeSat-L received observation reports from: Scott Dalton, Brian Cook, Terry Pundiak, Bill Mitchell (his second decay in as many months!), John Holtz, and Floyd Weaver.

  • In early May 2004, the decay of Raduga 33 became the hot topic on SeeSat-L. Mike McCants alerted observers about the satellite's imminent decay. Over the next few days, SeeSat-L subscribers posted updated orbital elements as soon as they became available, and discussed the potential to observe this decay. Thanks to the planning and some good luck, the spectacular decay was observed by Ted Molczan, Jim Prather and Bill Mitchell.

  • Mark Hanning-Lee reported to SeeSat-L, his possible sighting of a decay on November 23, 2003 UTC, from Joshua Tree, California. Alan Pickup and Harro Zimmer provided confirmation, and identified the object as a small piece of debris of the Cosmos 2399 satellite.

  • On 2001 Dec 02 UTC, the re-entry of the Proton 3rd stage, 2001-053D / 26990, was observed from Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Ed Cannon alerted SeeSat-L. Confirming analyses were provided by Alan Pickup, and Harro Zimmer. Some of the sightings were as UFO reports.
  • On 2001 Sep 06 UTC, the re-entry of the SL-3 rocket body 1975-076B / 08128 was observed along the U.S. northeast coast. Harro Zimmer had alerted SeeSat-L to the possibility that it would be visible from New York. A sighting from there was reported by Don Gardner reported that NBC News had broadcast video of the re-entry, mis-identifed as a meteor. Here is a UFO report believed to have resulted from this event.
  • On 2001 Aug 12 UTC, Michael Boschat reported a brilliant re-entry he observed from Nova Scotia. It was identified as the SL-6 rocket body 2001-030B / 26868 by Tony Beresford and Harro Zimmer. Daniel Deak reported that it was observed from Quebec by hundreds of amateur astronomers gathered to observe the Perseids meteor shower. Michael took several photographs.
  • Mir Space Station, the core vehicle was launched in February 1986 and decayed on March 23, 2001 in a planned reentry.
  • Starshine-1 was deployed from STS-96 on 1999 June 5 and decayed on 2000 Feb 18. Alan Pickup and Harro Zimmer provided independent decay prediction reports.
  • On 1997 Nov 15 UTC (November 14, 1997 PST), Fred Burger and Leigh Palmer reported their observations of the re-entry of the Kupon Platform (1997-070C / 25047). It was sighted from British Columbia, Oregon and Washington, and resulted in a number of UFO reports.
  • On 1996 Dec 12 UTC (December 11, 1996 PST), the re-entry of the second stage rocket of Cosmos 2335 (1996-069B / 24671) was seen over a wide area of Yukon, which resulted in reports of a giant UFO from Fox Lake, Carmacks, Pelly Crossing and Mayo. In April 2012, Ted Molczan reported the close correlation between the re-entry and the UFO sightings, which Harro Zimmer confirmed, using a more precise method. Ted followed up with additional analysis, based on Harro's improved estimate of the trajectory.
  • Mars 96, launched on Nov 16, 1996 at 20:48 UTC, was never acknowledged to have been actually tracked by USSTRATCOM. The DM-2 fourth stage of the Proton rocket failed to fire properly on its second burn in Low Earth Orbit and probe quickly decayed over, near or close to the east coast of Ecuador early on Nov 17 on orbit 3 near perigee. Many stories followed after the launch and speculation was high as to where the Russian plutonium fuelled Mars probe finally re-entered.
  • In August 1996, Alan Pickup and Mike McCants alerted SeeSat-L subscribers to the imminent decay of the upper stage of the rocket that launched Raduga 33. On August 20, 1996 UTC, Stephen Bolton observed it glowing brilliantly, as it passed through perigee, the day before it re-entered. Ted Molczan explained the phenomenon.

  • On November 5, 1990, the re-entry of a Proton rocket's 3rd stage, 1990-094C, was observed from several European countries. In 2005, Frits Westra of The UFO Working Group Netherlands sought information on SeeSat-L, which yielded responses from Ted Molczan and Thierry Marais. Ted was invited to contribute to their 2006 report, which shows that this decay explains a UFO report by Tornado fighter pilots. Ted relied on trajectory data derived within days of the re-entry by Pierre Neirinck, from an observation by Daniel Karcher.
  • Return to Satellite Re-entry page.