RE: reasons for tracking

From: Ted Molczan (molczan@rogers.com)
Date: Mon Aug 09 2004 - 01:03:57 EDT

  • Next message: Graham: "Re: reasons for tracking"

    Graham wrote:
    
    <<It would be interesting to know why members are so "addicted" to reporting the
    orbital path of these satelittes Do members see this as a fun game to see how
    many sats they can spot purely for the sake of it?,or maybe they see themselves
    as  "cheeky spy hunters",or do they feel this information can benefit our world
    on some other level?>>
    
    I respect the right of those who own and/or track satellites to withhold the
    orbital elements that they generate. However, the space surrounding Earth
    belongs to everyone, and I assert an equal right to learn what I am able about
    the objects that orbit there, and to share my findings as I see fit. I strongly
    believe that there are public benefits to be derived from the efforts of myself
    and my colleagues.
    
    
    <<Who actually uses this data?,what is the benefit of making this data public?>>
    
    Over the past 15 years, our efforts have assisted numerous journalistic and
    scholarly researches into reconnaissance satellites.
    
    For example, you may recall that in the immediate aftermath of the loss of
    Shuttle Columbia, the public and the press asked whether or not, during STS 107,
    the KeyHole imaging reconnaissance satellites could have been used to detect and
    assess the extent of any damage.
    
    You may also recall that in press briefings, NASA officials played down the
    potential usefulness of such images, based upon their experience. (Those same
    officials were also adamant that the now infamous piece of foam insulation could
    not possibly have inflicted the fatal damage.)
    
    The press wanted to probe more deeply into the issue of satellite imaging, and
    within hours of the tragedy, I heard from NBC reporter Robert Windrem, which led
    me to perform several hours of analysis, resulting in this news report (you may
    need to scroll down the page a bit to find it):
    
    http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3077590
    
    That story was a retrospective look at Columbia's very first mission, in 1981,
    when it was rumoured to have been imaged by a KeyHole, due to concerns about
    possible tile damage. 
    
    Days later, Washington Post reporter Rick Weiss contacted me, asking whether or
    not KeyHoles had been in a position to image Columbia on STS 107. Fortunately,
    Tony Beresford in Australia, and Greg Roberts in South Africa, had tracked
    KeyHole USA 129 throughout the mission of STS 107, so we had excellent orbital
    data, which enabled me to perform the analysis requested by the Washington Post,
    which resulted in this article:
    
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A5330-2003Feb13
    
    Soon after, I created a web page which provides much greater detail on the
    matter, including the analysis of a second KeyHole, USA 161, thanks to
    subsequent excellent tracking efforts by David Brierley and Bjorn Gimle:
    
    http://www.satobs.org/columbia/KeyHolesattosat.html#STS107
    
    It was one thing to know that imaging was possible in theory, quite another to
    know that numerous close conjunctions had actually occurred, that would have
    supported very high resolution imaging. Therefore, I believe that our efforts
    played a small, but worthwhile, role in informing the public debate on an
    important aspect of STS 107.
    
    Also, last year, I was asked to help compile a table of the world's military
    satellites for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's (SIPRI's)
    2003 Yearbook, which includes this acknowledgement of my fellow hobbyists:
    
    "The authors wish to acknowledge the international group of hobbyists who
    annually produce thousands of precise observations of over 100 US military
    satellites, from which they derive accurate orbital elements. This small,
    informal group is the sole public source of orbital data for more than 30 of the
    satellites listed in these tables."
    
    
    <<As the "hide the tanks" article states some member have 150,000 plus
    observations over a decade or more;this is a deep commitment which must have a
    driving motivation.>>
    
    You refer to the work of Russell Eberst, who has observed satellites since the
    dawn of the space age - for the first several decades in support of geophysical
    researches, more recently in an effort to obtain observational data on a wide
    variety of satellites, not only "spy sats". His photometric observations are the
    backbone of the accurate magnitude estimates taken for granted by those using
    many of the popular prediction services and software. 
    
    
    <<I would suggest that all trackers do look at all angles of this hobby as it
    may well prove to be it is not your own opinion that matters,but others who may
    have the ultimate power to act.>>
    
    Who are the others, and how might they act?
    
    Ted Molczan
    
    
    
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