Plaque attached to the Pioneer spacecraft

'Now there is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it.'

Richard Buckmister Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1969) chapter 4

A selection of my observations of rusting junk wantonly thrown into Earth orbit which will never go anywhere, following predictions from Chris Peat's 'Heavens-Above' GmbH website. Do an Internet search for it.

Observation #249, 2012.II.21 - Kosmos 1486 rocket body

Observed bright orbital object moving overhead from roughly due south to due north, crossing the line between θ Draconis and Edasich at precisely 47 seconds past 0515. Later research indicated that this object is the rocket body of a Soviet Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile converted for use as a satellite launcher, which placed into orbit type Strela-2M Soviet military communications satellite Kosmos 1486.

Kosmos 1486 - 2012.II.21.0515 UT
KOSMOS 1486 - 2012.II.21.0515 UT

In July of 1958 a Soviet Government decree called for development of an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile with a range of 4,000 kilometres. As a direct consequence the R-14 Usovaya system was accepted by the Soviet military in 1961, and the first division of four launchers entered service with Soviet strategic missile forces towards the end of the same year. From 5 to 8 September 1962, as part of Operation Tyulin, seven R-14s were launched with live nuclear warheads from Yasnaya near Chita, to Novaya Zemlya. In parallel with these tests the new rocket was being secretly deployed to Cuba, and two regiments (an R-14 regiment consisted of two divisions, with eight launchers total) with sixteen R-14 launchers joined three regiments of R-12s on that island. The missiles were eventually returned to the Soviet Union as part of the agreement reached to end the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. By the end of 1962 two regiments were fully operational in the Ukraine and Latvia, these being targeted on Thor and Jupiter missile launchers and Polaris bases in Turkey, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain. The missile had a guaranteed storage life of thirty days in fuelled condition, and a reaction time of two hours from a launch go-ahead.

R-14 USOVAYA IRBMs c. 1977
R-14 Usovaya IRBMs c. 1977

According to one Soviet missile forces veteran, by the 1970s one R-14 mobile regiment consisted of three control units and four to five launchers, deployed primarily on surface launch pads. Whilst he was in service he visited at least nine launch sites: Sovietsk, Gvardeisk, and Znamensk in the Kaliningrad enclave; Taurage and Ukmerge in Lithuania, Elgava and Dobele in Latvia, and Postavy and Lida in Belorussia. His own regiment in Priekule, Latvia, had six silo-based R-14s and three R-14s on surface pads. According to the veteran, his regiment was the last which was armed with the missile, which was withdrawn from service in the middle of 1984. Official histories indicate that the last R-14 IRBM was withdrawn from service in 1987.

KOSMOS-3 vehicle being erected into launch position
Kosmos-3 vehicle being erected into launch position

The launch vehicles known today as Kosmos-1, 3, 3M and 3MU are all derived from the R-14 intermediate range ballistic missile. The R-14 ballistic missile served as the first stage of the future launcher, whilst the S3 upper stage was developed from scratch. In October 1961 the Soviet Government officially approved the work on the Kosmos-1 vehicle as the launcher for Meteor, Strela and Pchela satellites. In November 1962, before completing the development of Kosmos-1, OKB-586 passed the serial production of the rocket to OKB-10 in Krasnoyarsk-26 (Eastern Siberia), now known as Zheleznogorsk. The first fourteen rockets of this type were manufactured at Site 2 of Krasmashzavod in Krasnoyarsk-26, and around forty follow-on vehicles were built at the main facility of the same plant. Around 1970, the serial production of the Kosmos-3M vehicle and all of its further modifications were transferred to PO Polyot in the Eastern Siberian town of Omsk. A total of seven hundred and fifty Kosmos-3M rockets and derivatives would ultimately be manufactured during the 45-year service life of the launcher.

Strela-2M Satellite
STRELA-2M Satellite

The Strela (Russian: 'Arrow') communications system was developed experimentally in collaboration with the KB Krasnoyarsk Radio-Technical Factory in the 1960s. The Strela-2M system eventually entered production in 1972, and was accepted by the Soviet military in 1974. In the period 1970 to 1994 a total of 59 Strela-2Ms were launched, after which the Strela-3 system replaced all previous Strela systems in active service, providing encrypted communications for theatre Soviet military forces. The Strela-2M satellites could be monitored in the West by their characteristic continuous wave beacon on 153.660 MHz.

Strela-2M satellites consisted of a 2.035-metre diameter cylindrical spacecraft body, with solar cells and radiators of the thermostatic temperature regulating system mounted on the exterior. Orientation was by a single-axis magneto-gravitational (gravity gradient boom) passive system. The hermetically-sealed compartment had the equipment mounted in cruciform bays, with the chemical batteries protecting the radio and guidance equipment mounted at the centre. The expected service life of a Strela-2M was from twenty-four to thirty-six months. They were launched singly by Kosmos 3M launch vehicles into constellations of three satellites, into orbits at an altitude of 800 kilometres, in three orbital planes inclined 74° to the equator and spaced 120° apart.

The Kosmos 1486 2nd stage observed over Coventry on 21 February 2012, Cospar ID: 1983-79B, NORAD #14241, was launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on 3 August 1983. This upper stage of a Kosmos 3M rocket is a plain cylinder with a weight estimated by the RAE at two tons, who also estimate that it shall remain in orbit for another century. Apart from the Cosmos 1486 satellite which the rocket placed in orbit, two other orbital fragments from this launch are also catalogued.

On 19 December 2006, A Kosmos-3M rocket lifted off from Plesetsk launch site carrying the SAR-Lupe-1 military reconnaissance satellite for the German Army. According to its developer, OHB-System AG of Bremen, Germany, the payload successfully reached its orbit an hour later, and a preliminary review of all main functions showed that the satellite could commence operations. At the beginning of the mission, control over the satellite was managed by the German Space Agency, DLR, in Oberpfaffenhofen. The ground station of the German Armed Forces in Gelsdorf near Bonn was tracking the satellite at the same time, and assumed operative responsibility for it in mid-January 2007, at which point in time it started collecting SAR radar images.

Model of SAR-Lupe Satellite mounted inside a Kosmos-3M rocket
Model of SAR-LUPE Satellite mounted inside a Kosmos-3M rocket

This 770-kilogramme, 4 by 3 by 2-metre spacecraft became the first of a fleet of five such vehicles, designed to provide Federal German Armed Forces with radar imagery for surveillance purposes. The project was funded by the German Ministry of Defence and the Bundesamt für Wehrtechnik und Beschaffung (Federal Office of Defence Technology and Procurement). All five identical SAR-Lupe satellites sport the synthetic aperture radar or 'S.A.R.', with a three-metre-long antenna and a folding probe. They are capable of delivering photographs with a resolution of less than one metre in any weather, day or night. Operating in a 500-kilometre orbit passing over the Earth's poles in three different orbital planes, the satellites are able to photograph practically any location on the planet from latitude 80° North to 80° South, given thirty-six hours notice. The system is able to generate more than thirty images per day, each covering an area of five square kilometres.

The SAR-Lupe system was conceived at OHB-System AG some time around the year 1998, and on 17 December 2001, The German Ministry of Defence signed a 300-million Euro contract with the company to develop the system. OHB-System formed a consortium to undertake the project which included a number of European aerospace firms, among them Alcatel Space of Toulouse, France; Carlo Gavazzi Space of Milan, Italy; and Saab Ericsson of Göteborg, Sweden. On 30 July 2002, Germany and France signed a treaty, envisioning SAR-Lupe satellites and the French Helios optical reconnaissance satellite operating jointly to form a common reconnaissance system for the European Union.

The Russian government launched the fifth and final satellite in the network of German military reconnaissance satellites in July 2008, and as of that time the entire system has been fully operational. All of the satellites are operating perfectly, with the SAR-Lupe satellites supplying the German Army with outstanding high-resolution images and by all accounts operating very successfully and reliably.

Observation #172, 2010.VII.10 - X-3 Prospero

Completed setting up the scopes for the predicted apparition of the Prospero satellite, using the 8" specular for maximum light grasp, at the smallest available magnification of ×32 for maximum field of view. Elected to catch the satellite as it moved through Pegasus, and kept the stars Sadal Bari and λ Pegasi in the field of view, as I believed Prospero was certain to pass in front of these. As I looked up at the stars from Pegasus across Aquarius and waited for the satellite, I felt the ghost of the British rocket programme pass through me, and finally understood that the ultimate reason for its demise was faith in Government. I dare say that even the brilliant designers and engineers who made the rocket programme possible had not entirely and thoroughly thought through its full implications and grasped its overriding significance, and must somehow have subconsciously deceived themselves into believing that the Governmental authorities knew more about the reasons for developing or for not developing a home-grown launch vehicle than they did. In the event, a successful orbital rocket was developed in spite of never having been nearly adequately funded, and then immediately abandoned by the Government anyway as not being commercially viable. The picture of Outer Space painted by such a policy is one of an unapproachable two-dimensional void daubed with worthless dabs of light, meaningless and irrelevant to all but the nation's executive, who alone have final ultimate authority over it, over and above Crown, church, or God. The implications of such a false arrogant perception of the universe for the common man are fundamental, far-reaching, and dire, and render routine the most shocking impoverishment of human understanding. Cue a short essay.

The British rocket programme originally began its life as a justification for the huge national expenditure on developing otherwise useless home-grown strategic weapons. In the 1950s and 1960s £200 million (1960s prices) were spent developing a British nuclear missile – code-named Blue Streak - based on captured Nazi technology. The missile programme was then cancelled by the Government with absolutely nothing to show for it, when it was realized that Blue Streak was itself vulnerable to missile attack, and in the event of an attack could not be made ready to launch in retaliation before being hit. In a missile exchange, Blue Streak could only be fired first in a pre-emptive strike. The British nuclear missile was therefore no deterrent to any opponent of Britain, but a British threat to the world which if mis-handled could have led to Britain's annihilation. Even the British Government could see that a threat involving such consequences for Britain was not likely to be taken seriously by any opponent of Britain. In the 1960s the fiasco was national security tip-top secret information, so some brilliant people were employed to take the obsolete British nuclear missile and, on a shoe-string budget taken out of Ministry of Defence petty cash, fashion a viable orbital space vehicle out of it, purely in order to cover for the expenditure on the failed nuclear missile programme. The result was Black Arrow, a minimalist satellite launcher of great elegance and beauty, and at £9 million by far the cheapest orbital space vehicle in history. Black Arrow successfully placed into Earth orbit the only satellite ever launched by a British rocket: the Royal Aircraft Establishment Space Department's X-3 satellite, otherwise known as 'Prospero'. Prospero, International Designation Code 1971-093A, NORAD Catalogue #5580, is a dustbin-sized bakelite pumpkin, 3'11" by 2'4", weighing about ten-and-a-half stones, covered with thousands of solar cells and full of 1970s breadboard circuitry. Launched by a paraffin-fuelled Black Arrow carrier rocket from Woomera, Australia in October 1971, it orbits the Earth once every hour and three quarters at an angle of 82° to the equator, and at a distance from Earth ranging from 333⅓ to 830.4 miles. It was used to test experimental solar cells, thermal surface finishes and lightweight electronics for future satellites, and contained an experiment developed at Birmingham University to measure the incidence of micrometeorites in near-Earth space.* But by the time Prospero was launched, the British Government had already pulled the plug on the rocket programme on the basis of its not being profitable, and Prospero was only permitted to be launched because all of the necessary equipment and infrastructure had already been built and paid for. There were celebrations around the globe as Prospero first passed overhead, but the people who had launched him were already out of a job, and a generation of British boys brought up to believe that Great Britain was going to dominate the exploration of space were utterly cheated. I mulled over this ruefully as I kept my bargain basement tin and alloy Chinese reflector trained on λ Pegasi and Sadal Bari, set up in the six-and-a-half foot wide concrete-paved entry which passes for the back yard of my urban Council flat.

*Five years ago just before I was refused support to read Astrophysics at Birmingham, I was given an exclusive tour of the Astrophysics Department, and was shown a sad display in some deserted corridor of the few small spare pieces of spacecraft left at the University from those days, looking very much like one might expect pieces of spacecraft to look, looking very much more sophisticated than, say, pieces of a modern motor car or TV set, or even the talking electronic fish tank in Blake's Seven.

Vague scanning between Pegasus and Aquarius with 8× binoculars. Saw nothing. This was the moment that Prospero was due to come out of the Earth's shadow, and four minutes before Prospero was scheduled to appear on my chart, assuming the accuracy of the prediction.

A bright naked eye satellite suddenly came into sunlight very close to the predicted track for Prospero, and blazed a trail to the east just underneath λ Pegasi, Sadal Bari, and Scheat. I had to think on my feet; Prospero was not predicted to approach Pegasus for another twenty-five seconds at 004730, so I quickly concluded that the satellite I had just seen was too bright to be Prospero and had only appeared by coincidence, and after hurriedly noting the track of the bright satellite on my chart I resumed my vigil for Prospero with binoculars until it was due to enter the field of view of the telescope.

Sure enough, spotted Prospero with the 8" specular at 32× magnification, speeding across the star-sprinkled field of view in exactly the predicted position at exactly the predicted moment. The satisfaction of having achieved my aim of observing this obscure artificial satellite was short-lived however, as the satellite quickly sped out of view almost as soon as it had come into view, which was perplexing. In fact the emotional effect of finally seeing this satellite, whose history and construction I had studied in as much depth as any layman possibly can, and of having finally proved to myself the reality of the achievement, was unexpectedly strange, decidedly quizzical in fact. The more I think about trying to describe how it felt to observe the apparition of Prospero, the more perplexed I become, and the more amused at my own perplexity. Self-expression has never been a difficulty for me, there is no feeling I can sustain which I cannot express in writing, but describing how it feels to observe the apparition of Prospero eludes me for the moment. I shall begin by describing the sight literally. The satellite was faint even at ×32 magnification - after all it is barely four feet across and was about eight hundred miles above me in orbit around the Earth - but a definite presence; the faint cyan-hued pinprick of light sped silently across the entire field of view in less than three seconds, suddenly, surprisingly, audaciously, without so much as a by-your-leave, and so ensued a breathless chase. In fact this next part was, as they say, top fun. Urgently turning the declination and right ascension controls of the telescope mount, like a greyhound sprinting around a dog track I managed to catch sight of my mechanical quarry effortlessly following its orbit at 26,000 miles per hour, and kept chasing it across Pegasus until very quickly I became hopelessly lost in unrecognizable constellations of faint stars, not knowing where exactly I was pointing the telescope and only able to keep chasing the fair prize which continually escaped across the field of view, knowing all the time that it would inevitably elude me like trying to focus in retinal vision on a microscopic animalcule floating in the eye-water. But the chase was everything. Finally, at about 005010 I impetuously turned a control too far in making a frantic adjustment to keep up with Prospero, and in correcting myself I found that I had lost the satellite, and could not find him again. I calculate that I must have lost Prospero somewhere in the vicinity of π Cassiopiæ, just inside the constellation of Andromeda, not far from the Great Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda, I now realize. Prospero was very fast, and whilst I kept up with him there was hardly time for me to register what I was looking at. The character of this tiny artificial moon could best be described as entirely puckish, and indeed Prospero was originally to have been named Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream, (Act II Scene I PUCK: 'I'll put a girdle about the earth in forty minutes.') and there is something very much of the Robin Goodfellow about him; only this mischievous sprite now haunts the stars rather than the English countryside. However the Minister for Aerospace who cancelled the space programme is reported to have said that he didn't trust himself to pronounce the name of the satellite correctly in the House of Commons, and what with the cancellation of the programme the X-3 was instead named Prospero, after the usurped Duke of Milan in The Tempest who gives up his books and magic powers. (Epilogue PROSPERO: 'NOW my charms are all o'erthrown, And what strength I have's mine own,— Which is most faint'.)

The next satellite in the series, X-4 Miranda, was launched in 1974 aboard an American Scout rocket and was designed to test stabilisation equipment, comprising gyroscopes and Sun sensors to determine position, and nitrogen thrusters to move. It has pneumatically-deployed solar panels and may be more obvious to spot than Prospero. All that remains of British Government involvement in space today is a Government administrative department with the somewhat highfalutin title of British National Space Council. One rather imagines some white-and-silver-robed angelic cabal, possibly including Susannah York and Marlon Brando, graciously dispensing their Space Edicts from the planet Krypton with patronizing beneficence. Having corresponded with the 'Director of United Kingdom Space Policy', I surmised that in actual fact the department only exists to cream its £200 million budget from the Treasury, and only justifies itself by claiming to co-ordinate ('serve as a focus for' they say) the efforts of organizations who really do invest in space technology.** In the meantime many companies and Universities in Great Britain continue to produce space technology without Government subsidy. Astrium, formerly Hawker Siddeley Dynamics, formerly de Havilland (the original designers of the Blue Streak nuclear missile) which itself had been taken over by a consortium of British Aerospace, Rolls Royce, and Saunders Roe, the latter being part of the British Hovercraft Corporation (now known as Westlands) remains one of the world's major builders of scientific and communications satellites. Astrium's facilities at Stevenage, Hertfordshire were originally built for the Royal Aircraft Establishment X-series of technological satellites, including Prospero. Although I have also read that Astrium is a Franco-German consortium based in Germany, which allegedly builds nuclear missiles for the French Force de Dissuasion.

**It seems that just prior to the recent formation of a new British Government, the BNSC was replaced by 'The UK Space Agency', whose raison d'être is avowedly: '…to bring all UK civil space activities under one single management'. This pointless Agency has a new and rather frightening fascist-style logo based on the Union Flag, full of sharp angles and with one corner of the cross of the Knights of St. Patrick forming a vicious-looking barbed arrow pointing at 45°.

Prospero 2010.VII.10.004826-7
Diagram of the field of view over the course of roughly one second

Prospero flight spare
Prospero flight spare on display

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Observation #68, 2008.XII.2 - Iridium 31 - International Space Station

Clear cold evening, rapidly becoming cloudy. Naked eye observations of orbiting spacecraft.

1718 UT
Following a prediction from Chris Peat's Heavens-Above GmbH website, witnessed the glint from the orbiting Iridium communications satellite number 31, as one of its door-sized antennae reflected sunlight directly towards my location on Earth. The satellite flare unmistakable due southsouthwest, appearing like a piece of burning magnesium in the sky just at the predicted moment, moving towards the horizon and shrinking to a dull red point of light before winking out, all in the space of about five seconds. This is becoming a lot like train-spotting. When I was a child, the idea that one day I would be able to see space vehicles overhead was something that I always took for granted - I even fully expected the vehicles to be manned - but it has only just dawned on me that it is already happening.

Talking of manned space vehicles, I also had a prediction for a pass of the International Space Station, which I had never seen before. In spite of total patchy cloud cover I had a look anyway, and was not disappointed. The ISS is very bright indeed, like a steady white flare gliding smoothly and silently across the entire sky in four minutes or so. I couldn't fail to be impressed; the Space Station was visible even through the thicker clouds and was obvious, only a blind man would miss it. A truly glorious and inspiring sight. Miranda's famous words from The Tempest leap to mind: 'O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't!' It may be possible to observe this amazing thing through a telescope and make out detail, even take a picture, although I don't know what magnification I would have to use and the Space Station moves so fast that I don't know if I could catch it even at lowest (×40) magnification. I must look up this information on the Internet. The Space Shuttle Endeavour has only just returned from the International Space Station, and would have been visible through a telescope too; apparently Endeavour has just delivered a new cooker and a new fridge to the ISS.

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Observation #63, 2008.XI.18 - Iridium 25

1649 UT
Antoniadi II. Just before dusk, first bright stars (Altair, Vega) emerging from the deepening azure of the atmosphere. Jupiter very bright in the southsouthwest, almost confused him with nearby Venus which must be below the level of the neighbouring trees and houses. Having checked the 'Heavens Above' Internet website, had a prediction for the artificial satellite Iridium 25, which would reflect sunlight to my location from its antennae at 16.49.13 UT, 23° above the horizon at a bearing of 208° (southsouthwest). Having set my wonderful Argos Warehouse Operative digital watch to Universal Time by the BBC Radio 4 time signal at 4 p.m. I waited patiently with a pair of 8× Army binoculars, looking into the blue-green southwestern sky. The flare was spectacular when it came, two or three seconds early (I dare say because my location is well over one full degree west of the Greenwich Meridian) and appeared as a slow-moving elongated point of light or flash, which was if anything brighter than Jupiter. Immediately I put the binoculars on the satellite it began to fade, shrinking to a small faintly red point of light before disappearing entirely. The entire apparition must have lasted no more than eight or ten seconds. With nothing else in that part of the sky the flare was absolutely obvious. No one who was looking for it could possibly have failed to spot it. This looks like a superb party trick now: to check one's watch, point at the sky in front of everybody and say: 'Now watch this!' and see how they react when a bright flash appears in the heavens in the direction of your finger. There is another one tomorrow in exactly the same place, but slightly earlier.

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