Fun with Satellite Situation Reports

From: George Olshevsky (
Date: Thu Nov 24 2005 - 12:43:33 EST

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    Well, here's wishing everyone on the list who celebrates American
    Thanksgiving a pleasant and relaxing holiday!
    Thanks to David Bate for providing the website for the 13th edition of
    the History of On-Orbit Satellite Fragmentation. I downloaded all 446
    pages, printed and bound them in a three-ring binder and am now wading
    through the data. It will allow me to identify just which orbited
    debris are fragments and which are hardware.
    Speaking of downloads, last week I also downloaded and printed out the
    entire November 14 Satellite Situation Report. Why would I do
    something crazy like that (my wife asked, pointing to the increasing
    clutter in our house)? Well, for one thing, it frees me from being
    tied to the computer to peruse the data. I made a WordPerfect document
    out of it, and set in 9-point Courier type it takes up 807 pages,
    listing exactly 36 objects per page, two lines per object (the
    difference between 807x36 = 29052 objects and 28901 catalogued objects
    is made up largely by the front matter). I bought a couple of reams of
    three-hole-punched paper and a 5-inch D-ring binder at Staples, and
    presto, after a half-hour of printing I now have something very much
    like my old satellite table from the 1960s and 1970s back. The thing
    weighs almost exactly 10 pounds by my bathroom scale. Having it in a
    three-ring binder also allows me to replace pages with updates
    whenever something falls out of orbit or a name changes, and of course
    I've already made lots of my own name changes and other minor
    modifications to the table to make it more precise. Each week, I also
    add a fresh Box Score page from the latest Satellite Situation Report
    to the binder. This process will continue into the foreseeable future.
    As I explained to spouse Andrea, it keeps me out of bars in the
    Since the table is in decreasing catalogue-number order, I can add
    fresh pages of new objects to the front of the table, and as long as I
    don't add anything into the rest of the table (unless it's exactly 36
    new objects or I stop caring about table data fragmentation), I won't
    have to print the entire thing out again, just those occasional
    replacement pages when objects decay. I purposely avoided using page
    numbers on the pages for this reason (not to mention that using page
    numbers would also have lengthened the printout by some 20-30 pages
    since I'd have less room per page for the table).
    Anyone who'd like a copy of my current table, just request by email
    and I'll send it by FTP. It's a WordPerfect document but I'm sure any
    decent word processor will be able to convert it.
    Speaking of the Satellite Situation Report, I must ask about the
    orbital elements provided by Space Track. Lacking epochs they're
    practically useless, since you have no idea when the listed elements
    apply. They're not initial or earliest known or current elements (I
    checked a few entries, and anyway, what are current elements for a
    decayed object?) but seem to be chosen pretty much at random from the
    huge number of elsets available at the Space Track site. Am I right
    about this, or is there some system I cannot yet discern to the
    figures Space Track provides for each object?
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