RE: Satellite Database released

From: Ted Molczan (
Date: Fri Dec 09 2005 - 06:34:11 EST

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    George Olshevsky wrote:
    > Here's how I currently list the objects from this launch
    > (this will probably wrap atrociously, so please cut and paste
    > into some kind of monospaced font)
    > Int. desig.    Cat. No.          Period   Incl.   Apogee
    > Perigee         RCS
    > 1999-028A       25744   US        148.5    63.4     3123
    >  2695         N/A
    >   USA 144 (Misty 2)                      Launched (05/22/1999)
    The orbit of the above object is unknown, but most likely quasi 65 deg, circular
    between 700 km and 800 km. Probably best to just list the period, perigee and
    apogee as N/A. The values you list belong to Misty 2 decoy, object C below:
    > 1999-028C       25746   US         92.2    63.4      390
    >   376         N/A
    >   Misty 2 decoy                          Launched (05/22/1999)
    The period, perigee and apogee that you list for object C are derived from
    actual hobbyist tracking of what we briefly thought might have been USA 144, but
    which turned out to have been one of the pieces of debris, deposited after a
    manoeuvre to a parking orbit. I have since assigned that orbit to the final
    piece of debris, object L, because I believe it likely was the last piece shed.
    I believe that several pieces were shed in the initial 210 km x 316 km orbit.
    There was a manoeuvre to a 310 km x 404 km transfer orbit, in which at least one
    piece of debris definitely was shed.
    Here is my best guess as to orbital dimensions (in km) of the 99028 debris
    C  210 x 416  guess, assumed counterpart of 90019C from Misty 1
    D  210 x 416  guess, assumed counterpart of 90019D from Misty 1
    E  210 x 416  guess, assumed counterpart of 90019E from Misty 1
    F  210 x 416  guess, assumed counterpart of 90019F from Misty 1
    G  210 x 416  guess, assumed counterpart of 90019G from Misty 1
    H  310 x 404  consistent with official elements published near decay
    J  310 x 404  guess based on H
    K  310 x 404  guess based on H
    L  376 x 390  small flashing object observed by hobbyists
    I assume C through G remained in the initial orbit, as did their presumed
    counterparts of the Misty 1 launch (90019).
    I believe that H, J and K were unique to Misty 2, perhaps intended to create
    additional confusion (keep an adversary busy trying to figure out what is going
    on). Likewise for L.
    Note that earlier in this reply, I advised re-assigning the presumed decoy in
    the 2695 km x 3123 km orbit as object C, yet in the above table, I list the 210
    x 416 km initial orbit. This arises from the likelihood that the decoy is in
    effect an unacknowledged payload; in which case, there is no official catalogue
    entry for it. So the best compromise is to have it share the C designation with
    one of the pieces of debris.
    This is not the only case of an unacknowledged payload; all three 3rd generation
    NOSS launches orbited two payloads, and in each case, only one was acknowledged.
    In each case, a piece of debris was catalogued as object C, which may or may not
    exist, so we have assigned the second payload as C. Messy, but arguably the most
    reasonable compromise.
    > The orbital elements are mainly from Jonathan McDowell's
    > table. I wonder about the other objects for this launch. The
    > orbital elements are pretty low and if those are the original
    > elements (within a couple of days of launch, according to
    > epoch dates at Jonathan's website), they should have decayed
    > a long time ago, but here they are still in orbit.
    USSTRATCOM seldom acknowledges the decay or de-orbiting of objects in
    unpublished orbits. All of the 99028 debris must have decayed long ago.
    > ... E-G, J-L might be quite dense, perhaps some kind of
    > payloads, certainly not fairings or other such
    > high-surface-area-to-mass hardware.
    Agreed. At least some seem to have been fairly dense, and some may have had a
    role beyond simply providing deception. I know that Charles Vick has been
    looking into that possibility, and it will be interesting to see what he
    My latest speculation is that at least some of the C through G pieces are
    intended to initially provide the payload a large radar cross-section, so that
    adversaries will be conditioned to expect it to be easy to track. Once this
    radar-bright skin/shell is shed, the payload's passive low radar cross-section
    design makes it appear very small, so if it is occasionally detected in its
    operational orbit, it is difficult to impossible to track, and dismissed as
    debris. Once shed, the skin/shell may fulfil a second role: creating the
    impression that the payload broke-up. That is what Russia reported upon
    detecting objects C through G of the Misty 1 launch in 1990. Whether that was
    part of the planned deception, or just luck, is a matter of conjecture.
    > H started out quite low and came down pretty quickly.
    It only seems that way because elements were only issued during the object's
    final weeks in orbit. It almost certainly started out in the 310 x 404 km
    transfer orbit.
    > Also, some websites that carry Misty information suggest that
    > A, the high-orbit object, is the decoy and C is the actual
    > Misty payload. But if so, how and why did A get all the way
    > up there on its own if it's merely a decoy?
    The only reason that some websites list the high object as A, is that they got
    the orbit from we hobbyists, who are (hopefully) only now getting around to
    formally acknowledging the fact that it is not the primary payload, by
    reassigning it a object C.
    As for how it got that high, I assume that unlike the debris, the decoy was
    manoeuvrable, in effect an unacknowledged payload. Either it had a single
    re-started liquid fuelled motor, or two small solids, perhaps one on each end.
    It is on my to-do-list to look for "off-the-shelf" motors that could have been
    Once it reached the high orbit, the decoy would have inflated a bright balloon,
    which remained attached, to make it appear large to both optical and radar
    > What's it decoying us all away from?
    Misty 2.
    In the case of Misty 1, the LEO debris seemed to be effective in creating the
    deception that it had broken-up, but would the same trick have worked with Misty
    2? A decoy with an optical and radar signature consistent with expectations of
    the primary payload, might divert an adversary's attention long enough to be
    helpful in hiding the primary.
    Recently, I have begun to suspect that the decoy may have been related to a
    story that emerged in the latter part of the 1990's, about an imaging
    intelligence program called "8X", which was to operate satellites in orbits
    having a much higher apogee than the KH-11 and its successors, in order to
    provide the military with a longer dwell time near targets of interest, a wider
    field of view, and resolution around, say, 1 to 2 m. The need for such a system
    had been identified as a result of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
    When the decoy appeared, soon after the launch of USA 144, some of us said, aha,
    USA 144 must be "8X"! It seemed sort of plausible, because the orbit was
    somewhat elliptical, and its apogee was always over latitude 57 N, suggesting
    primary interest in Russia. This explanation was not completely satisfying,
    because at 2700 km x 3100 km, the orbit seemed far less elliptical than ideal
    for the "8X" concept. Something like, say, 700 km x 5100 km would have made more
    Interestingly, rumours about "8X" seemed to dry up after the launch of USA 144.
    Perhaps the program was cancelled or absorbed into the FIA (Future Imagery
    Architecture) program. Taking the speculation in a different direction: could
    "8X" have been purely a cover story intended to lead adversaries to believe that
    the planned Misty 2 decoy was conducting imaging intelligence in such a high
    Another part of the puzzle may be Russia's Arkon 1 (97028A / 24827) imaging
    intelligence satellite, launched two years before Misty 2 into a 63.4 deg, 1509
    X 2746 km orbit, with apogee over 21 deg N latitude. Although somewhat lower,
    and more eccentric, the orbit is awfully similar to that of Misty 2's decoy. Is
    this a meaningless coincidence, or could there be some relation? Perhaps having
    heard the "8X" rumours, Russia decided to build something similar.
    Hopefully, over time new facts will emerge that clarify the Misty 2 story.
    Ted Molczan
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