KH, Lacrosse orbits

Allen Thomson (thomsona@netcom.com)
Sat, 7 Sep 1996 08:40:37 -0700

Ted Molczan wrote:
>Allen Thomson wrote:
>
>>I'm working up an analysis of the USA 86/116 and Lacrosse coverage of 
>>southern Iraq for 1-4 September 1996 to see if there's any evidence
>>of coordination with the missile strikes there. My latest element
>>sets from here and kilroy indicate a striking lack of coverage
>>from early morning to early afternoon, with a gap of several hours
>>between the strikes and good passes of the satellites for bomb
>>damage assessment.
>
>The lack of a Kh in the western (early) plane
>hurts in this case. The Lacrosses currently
>are about 60 apart, so they are providing reasonably
>well spaced coverage.

   Well, not all that good.  Around 2 September 1996 Lacrosse passes 
left periods of more than nine hours without all-weather coverage,
as the table below shows.  There were some other passes than the ones 
shown, but they were at such low culmination angles that I believe 
range/power limitations probably precluded effective SAR imagery. 
Moreover, Lacrosse 1, which provided most of the early post-strike 
coverage, is getting pretty elderly and there might be some question 
about its operational capability. 


[snip]

>Regarding the Kh's, USA 86 has been drifting slowly 
>westward since about April, at the rate of about 
>1.7 deg/month. It is now about 6 deg west of USA 116.
>At its present rate of precession, it would take
>25 months to reach the standard western plane, about
>49 deg west of USA 116. This could be reduced to say
>6 months, at the cost of a fairly expensive manoeuvre,
>that would consume a large fraction of the propellant
>required to maintain a standard Kh orbit against drag
>over its normal lifetime.

>The only practical solution to the problem of 
>reconnaissance/surveillance gaps is to maintain a 
>number of spacecraft in suitably spaced orbital planes.
>At a minimum, the NRO needs to quickly replace USA 33, 
>the westerly  Kh-11, deorbited in mid-May 1996; and they 
>need to launch Lacrosse 3 into a plane 90 deg from 
>Lacrosse 2, matching its altitude and inclination, to 
>maintain that spacing.

   I find myself at a loss to understand the KH-11/8, USA 86, 
and USA 116 story.  Presumably 11/8 was nonfunctional as an imager but 
could still be commanded to perform a deorbit maneuver -- or at least to 
disappear.  USA 86 is drifting as if it has lost propulsive capability, 
but I'm not sure that idea is confirmed by the details of its orbital 
history and would like to get others' views on that.  In addition, if it 
were dead in orbit, you might expect it to tumble at some rate and show 
brightness variations: is that happening?  USA 116 seems to be healthy, 
but the mispositioning of USA 86 detracts greatly from the utility of 
the constellation, as witness the poor coverage of Desert Strike.
   
   All in all, the US imaging spysat situation seems to be something 
of a mess  -- is there another plausible but less gloomy interpretation?



                              TRAKSAT  Version 2.80
                              Analytical Solution
                      Tracking Station: AN NASIRIYAH, IRAQ
                       [ Line Of Sight (LOS) Visibility ]
                            Input File:  SPYSAT.TXT

 Satellite    UTC     Time     Local   Time      Azimuth  Max  Min    Duration
              Date    HR:MN:SC Date    HR:MN:SC           Ele  Range  HR:MN:SC

 Lacrosse 1   01Sep96 16:53:04 01Sep96 20:53:04  NW TO SE  78    676  00:13:04 
 USA 86       01Sep96 20:22:39 02Sep96 00:22:39  SE TO N   18   1055  00:08:39 
 Lacrosse 2   01Sep96 21:16:40 02Sep96 01:16:40  N  TO SE  63    732  00:13:40 
 USA 116      01Sep96 21:48:45 02Sep96 01:48:45  S  TO NW  27    552  00:07:45 
 USA 86       01Sep96 22:01:27 02Sep96 02:01:27  SW TO NW   9   1468  00:07:27 


-----------------------------FIRST STRIKE ~ 0930 LOCAL------------------------

                                       DAYTIME

 Lacrosse 1   02Sep96 07:04:49 02Sep96 11:04:49  S  TO NE  32   1110  00:13:49 
 USA 116      02Sep96 08:06:53 02Sep96 12:06:53  NE TO SE   3   3194  00:07:53 
 USA 86       02Sep96 08:26:11 02Sep96 12:26:11  NE TO SE  18   2061  00:14:11 
 Lacrosse 1   02Sep96 08:46:26 02Sep96 12:46:26  SW TO NE  27   1240  00:12:26 
 USA 116      02Sep96 09:39:36 02Sep96 13:39:36  N  TO S   53   1091  00:15:36 
 USA 86       02Sep96 10:03:17 02Sep96 14:03:17  N  TO SW  52   1121  00:15:17 
 USA 116      02Sep96 11:16:43 02Sep96 15:16:43  N  TO SW  18   1977  00:13:43 
 Lacrosse 2   02Sep96 11:29:39 02Sep96 15:29:39  SW TO N   58    776  00:13:39 
 USA 86       02Sep96 11:44:05 02Sep96 15:44:05  NW TO W    3   3070  00:07:05 

 
                                       NIGHT
 
 Lacrosse 1   02Sep96 15:41:48 02Sep96 19:41:48  NW TO SE  26   1262  00:12:48 
 Lacrosse 1   02Sep96 17:23:17 02Sep96 21:23:17  NW TO S   33   1079  00:13:17 
 USA 86       02Sep96 19:33:20 02Sep96 23:33:20  E  TO NE   1   2229  00:03:20 
 USA 116      02Sep96 20:35:54 03Sep96 00:35:54  SE TO N    6   1312  00:05:54 
 USA 86       02Sep96 21:07:15 03Sep96 01:07:15  S  TO N   73    441  00:10:15 
 Lacrosse 2   02Sep96 21:48:55 03Sep96 01:48:55  NW TO S   38   1010  00:13:55 
 USA 116      02Sep96 22:11:50 03Sep96 02:11:50  SW TO NW  10   1065  00:06:50 


-----------------------------SECOND STRIKE ~ 0530 LOCAL------------------------


                                       DAYTIME

 Lacrosse 1   03Sep96 07:34:14 03Sep96 11:34:14  SW TO NE  81    670  00:13:14 
 USA 86       03Sep96 07:37:01 03Sep96 11:37:01  NE TO E    2   3302  00:06:01 
 USA 116      03Sep96 08:27:35 03Sep96 12:27:35  NE TO SE   9   2652  00:11:35 
 USA 86       03Sep96 09:10:45 03Sep96 13:10:45  N  TO S   50   1145  00:16:45 
 USA 116      03Sep96 10:02:02 03Sep96 14:02:02  N  TO S   87    905  00:16:02 
 Lacrosse 2   03Sep96 10:21:52 03Sep96 14:21:52  S  TO NE  33   1077  00:13:52 
 USA 86       03Sep96 10:49:17 03Sep96 14:49:17  N  TO SW  19   1969  00:13:17 
 USA 116      03Sep96 11:39:55 03Sep96 15:39:55  N  TO SW  10   2458  00:11:55 


                                       NIGHT

 Lacrosse 1   03Sep96 16:11:48 03Sep96 20:11:48  NW TO SE  73    681  00:13:48 
 USA 86       03Sep96 20:15:35 04Sep96 00:15:35  SE TO N   15   1211  00:08:35 
 Lacrosse 2   03Sep96 20:40:37 04Sep96 00:40:37  N  TO SE  51    813  00:13:37 
 USA 116      03Sep96 20:57:23 04Sep96 00:57:23  SE TO N   17    810  00:07:23 
 USA 86       03Sep96 21:53:35 04Sep96 01:53:35  SW TO NW  12   1311  00:08:35 
 USA 116      03Sep96 22:35:32 04Sep96 02:35:32  SW TO NW   3   1605  00:04:32