96072A search - some ideas and questions

Ted Molczan (molczan@fox.nstn.ca)
Mon, 30 Dec 1996 14:54:30 -0500

I have some further ideas regarding the unusually bright object
that is being tracked, as introduced in earlier messages. I would
appreciate comments and analysis from anyone who is interested.

The problem is that although the orbit behaves about as would be
expected of the Titan 2nd stage from a KeyHole launch, the object
appears to be 2 to 3 magnitudes too bright. Also, it is not
flashing, despite the fact all previous observed ones flashed,
most of them quite rapidly.

One possible explanation is that Titan is carrying an attached
secondary experimental payload - some sort of a large, deployable
or inflatable structure.

Another idea I have dreamed-up is that perhaps due to the orbit's
low perigee - 160 km or less, it is experiencing sufficient
heating to cause some materials to out-gas or vapourize, creating a
small cloud of gas or particles enveloping the object. The observations
are occurring near apogee, or about 47 minutes after perigee, so the
cloud would have to be able to persist for that long. I am not thinking
of unspent propellant, but some other materials, such as paint.
Also, I am assuming that the object itself is not glowing at apogee,
even if it is glowing near perigee.

That also raises the question about observing this object in the
Earth's shadow - observer's might want to check whether or not
they have any near perigee passes at night. We had a report from
Steve Bolton in Aug'96 of seeing the Raduga 33's SL-12 r glowing at 
about 107 km altitude, near perigee. It was magnitude -2. At the
time its apogee was over 1800 km.

According to my records, the lowest perigee height of a Titan 2nd
stage from a KeyHole launch was 143 km. Would that be low enough
for significant heating to occur? If not, then how low would it
have to be? I hope to produce a refined element set later today.

This object may be of special interest to our fellow SeeSaters who
specialize in decay prediction/analysis.

Clear skies!
Ted Molczan