DOD launch identification

Sat, 15 Feb 1997 16:17:01 -0500 (EST)

I have been browsing a new 2 Mb file on the Jonathan's Space Report 
homepage that gives presumably official NORAD designations for all catalogued
objects, both in orbit and decayed.  By "designation" I mean a name that
distinguishes payloads, r/b's, deb, etc.  There were a few interesting finds
in that list; I presume that someone has already looked through this source
and these things are probably common knowledge, but in case not ...

[btw, this wound up being rather long]

1)  STS-38.  The catalog lists the orbiter and the payload, and then the 
two additional pieces are identified as "r/b IUS SRM-1" and "r/b IUS 
SRM-2".  Thus, this appears to be an IUS launch!  We strongly suspected 
that the payload had gone to geosynch orbit, but I find the IUS reference 
somewhat troubling, because I seem to recall that the payload (which was 
observed in LEO after deployment and before manoever) seemed to be 
rotating, while IUS is 3-axis stabilized.  Perhaps the payload was placed 
in a barbecue roll while in its parking orbit?  There was an unusually 
long delay between deployment and manoever, certainly several orbits and 
probably more, and maybe they were concerned about thermal issues.  But I 
thought such rolls were usually very slow.  Also, I recall something 
coming out of Russia indicating that this may have been a geosynch 
counterpart to the STS-28 and STS-53 molniya-orbit SDS payloads; it would 
be interesting to think about the relationship between the upper stages 
used on these two configurations.  The fact that the molniya versions 
were spinners may have something to do with the STS-38 payload spin?

2) USA-32.  This is one of the "sparklers" that visually look like 
someone crinkled up a bunch of aluminum foil and set it tumbling.  USA-81 
is another in the series.  Anyway, USA-32 is listed explicitly in the 
catalog as a WHITECLOUD!!!  There are only two objects associated with 
the USA-32 launch, and the other is listed as the Titan r/b, so it is odd 
to have a one-object whitecloud mission.  Weird thought:  Could there be 
any connection between the USA-32 class payload and the missing A objects 
from the Titan-IV NOSS missions?

3) USA-53.  This is the STS-36 mystery object, the one shuttle mission to 
fly as high as 63-deg inclination.  The catalog lists the payload, as 
well as all the associated debris that came off at the time of the first 
major manoever, as having decayed in April 1990.  This is, of course, not 
particularly accurate, since the payload was seen in its higher orbit at 
a later date.  But it is intriguing:  why did NORAD catalog it this way?  
Did they actually mix up the primary payload with some other launch, so 
that the listed "20516 90-19B USA-53" may have been a debris fragment 
that decayed in 4/90 and not the recon payload?  If so, did the payload 
get catalogued as debris associated with some other mission?  Or is this 
all an amazingly elaborate smokescreen -- the catalog lists only the 
MONTH of decay of these objects, and not the date, which is customary.  
Did someone tell someone else to say everything came down in April?  Why 
would there be such a distortion of the facts?

4) USA-119.  There was an amusing degree of confusion regarding this 
whole launch.  The catalog lists TWO objects as "USA 119", 23862 AND 
23893.  Then, there are two objects listed with an international 
designator of B from this launch:  23863 (Titan rb) and 23907 (USA 120).  
I wonder if these errors would give a clue as to the time sequence of 
what happened, or what objects separated from what other objects, etc.  

Anyway, those are my thoughts.  --- Sean Sullivan