Re: Decay date of a KH 8-52 SRV revealed

From: Jonathan McDowell (
Date: Sun Jan 13 2013 - 18:12:27 UTC

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    I have now analysed the orbital data in the declassified document
    54.pdf in this collection.
    It confirms previous rumours that the saved TLEs for the A object at
    are NOT CORRECT - they are fine through Apr 28 but from Apr 28 to May
    23 they refer to a DIFFERENT OBJECT
    (or maybe something invented). On Apr 28 1982-06A moved to a low 150 x
    308 km orbit and seems to have
    been untracked by NORAD for almost a month.  More details at
    (permalink will eventually be
    I solicit analysis of the Apr 28-May 23 published TLEs for 13040
    (which I obtained from Allen Thomson's collection).
    What is this slowly decaying object? Does it later get retagged as
    something else?
    Is it really possible that NORAD failed to notice a 4.5 tonne polar
    LEO satellite for several weeks, or is this
    the first known instance of deliberate TLE disinformation?  Are there
    TLEs tagged to some other object
    for a 150 x 308 km x 97.3 deg satellite in May 1982? (a HEXAGON was
    launched May 11 into a similar but distinct orbit, but its TLEs do
    seem to belong to it)
     - Jonathan
    On 11 January 2013 00:44, Ted Molczan <> wrote:
    > On 2012 Jan 10, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) made its third release of documents related to its Gambit
    > program, focused on GAMBIT Dual Mode:
    > Two documents provide information on the re-entry of a film return capsule (SRV 4352-1) that failed to separate properly
    > from KH 8-52, and remained in orbit for 20 years:
    > "Once confirmation was made that the object was the M4352 film bucket, the National Reconnaissance Operations Center
    > (NROC) initiated contingency support operations including procedures for monitoring the re-entry of an NRO payload.
    > While estimates were made as to where the bucket was likely to come down, it was impossible so pinpoint an accurate
    > re-entry time or location until almost four hours prior to re-entry. As the re-entry drew closer, the projected impact
    > location converged on a South Atlantic-Antarctica regional impact. The Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) Space
    > Vault tracked the bucket with its Space Surveillance Network radars, and the Aerospace Fusion Center captured data from
    > the Defense Support Program's (DSP) infrared sensors that observed the bucket's re-entry, and provided a near-real-time
    > assessment of impact location."
    > The declassified documents do not reveal the catalogue number or international designation of the object, which was one
    > of four objects catalogued as debris. Their TLEs were openly published during 1982-83, but were retroactively classified
    > in June 1983, as part of a policy to classify most U.S. LEO military TLEs. To-date, USSTRATCOM has acknowledged the
    > decay of 1982-006C / 13104.
    > Several years ago, Mike Waterman recovered a large number of the debris TLEs from his paper archives, issued during
    > 1982-83. They are available in Jonathan McDowell's archive:
    > Using the STOAG program, I have propagated all four orbits to decay. My estimate for 1982-006C was within a few months
    > of USSTRATCOM's official date, which gives me confidence in my results for the remaining three, of which only 1982-006E
    > / 13106 closely agrees with the date of decay of SRV 4352-1 disclosed by the NRO: 2002 Sep 28. The other two objects
    > decayed years earlier.
    > Here is a summary of the decay dates, and the source:
    > 1982-006C 13103  1999 Feb 18  USSTRATCOM
    > 1982-006D 13104  1988 Sep     estimated using STOAG propagation
    > 1982-006E 13105  2002 Sep 28  NRO
    > 1982-006F 13152  1995 Apr     estimated using STOAG propagation
    > Ted Molczan
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