Long lost objects in orbit

From: George Olshevsky (george.olshevsky@gmail.com)
Date: Sat Nov 12 2005 - 02:11:33 EST

  • Next message: George Olshevsky: "Re: Long lost objects in orbit"

    When I was an avid satellite data collector, I always used to get a
    kick out of the new catalogue numbers when they included debris that
    had been in orbit for many years. One such instance was object #1576,
    which went into orbit in 1958 with Vanguard 1 but wasn't catalogued
    until September 1965. This was unusual enough, as I recall, that there
    was a little note about it in one of the aerospace magazines (perhaps
    Aviation Week), which explained that it was probably a metal strap
    about a foot long that held the Vanguard payload to the rocket body.
    
    So it was fun to discover, in rummaging through the recent Space Track
    catalogue numbers, object #28443, a small bit of hardware (judging
    from the listed radar cross-section) left over from the launch of
    Tiros 4, way back on February 8, 1962. This object was catalogued in
    October 2004, almost 43 years after the launch--which occurred when I
    was still in high school! It's listed as Delta 4th stage debris, but I
    wonder what specifically it might be. A piece broken off the rocket?
    As I recall, the early Tiros spacecraft were hatbox-shaped and
    attached through their axis of symmetry to the top of the upper stage,
    the whole unit spinning around this axis during launch. After delivery
    to orbit, the satellite would detach and yo-yo despin weights would
    slow down its rotation while the upper stage went spinning away.
    Perhaps the piece of hardware once helped to hold the upper stage and
    spacecraft together? (The despin weights were catalogued as separate
    objects long ago.) What with modern radars and observing technology,
    lots more little fragments and such are being found still in orbit
    from those early launches.
    
    Going back in time 40 years also reminded me that November 9 was the
    40th anniversary of the great 1965 East Coast Blackout. I remember the
    day fairly well. I was in the MIT Aerospace Library (where else!?) at
    day's end after classes reading up on the week's space news when the
    lights flicked for a few seconds and then went out. The sun had long
    since set and it was quite dark outside--it might even have been
    raining or sleeting. The library was then located on the third floor
    of the Aerospace Engineering Building on Massachusetts Avenue in
    Cambridge, and I had to feel my way down some two flights of stairs in
    order to get out of the building and head for my residence (Burton
    House). Looking out the windows, I could see that the whole city of
    Boston was dark; only automobile lights on Massachusetts Avenue
    provided any illumination. The signals were out, so the traffic was
    more jammed up than usual. Emergency lights went on in my residence,
    and I think we ate dinner that evening by candlelight. It was several
    hours before the power went back on in the city--and some places on
    the East Coast went powerless all night long.
    
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