Today’s Tidbits: September 2, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: September 2, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for September 2, 2019:  KSC at HURCON 1; Trump reveals classified satellite imagery; ESA avoids collision with SpaceX satellite.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.


NASA’s Kennedy Space Center raised its Hurricane Condition (HURCON) from HURCON 2 to HURCON 1 today as tropical storm force winds from Hurricane Dorian now are forecast to affect the area “tentatively starting this evening and continuing through Wednesday.” KSC and the Visitor Center are closed at least until Thursday.  You can get the latest on KSC’s status at: [].

Hurricane Dorian remains stalled over the Bahamas and continues to pose a threat to Florida’s East Coast as well as Georgia and South Carolina.  It is a Category 4 hurricane, slightly better than Category 5 like yesterday, but still intensely threatening.

Forecasters think it may turn north and graze, rather than slam into, the Florida East Coast, but hurricane warnings are in effect from Palm Beach north to Jacksonville, including the Cocoa Beach area.  KSC, the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, and many commercial space companies began preparing for the storm days ago, but its glacial speed — it was just 1 mile per hour, but has slowed from that and is basically stationary right now — is keeping the risk high for an unusually long period of time while pummeling the Bahamas with catastrophic damage.

NOAA’s geostationary weather satellite that covers this part of the globe, GOES-16 or GOES-East, has been providing data and imagery of the storm that is feeding into the forecasts.

NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are getting some good imagery too.

Trump Reveals Classified Satellite Imagery of Iranian Launch Site

President Trump released his own satellite imagery on Friday, but in this case it was imagery of an Iranian launch pad taken by a classified U.S. intelligence satellite. An explosion took place there on Thursday. Initially, National Public Radio (NPR) published an image from one of Planet’s commercial remote sensing satellites [], but the President took it much further.

The President is the person who decides what is classified and what is not.  He defended his decision to tweet the image on that basis when questioned by reporters before boarding Marine One to head to Camp David on Friday.  “We had a photo. And I released it, which I have the absolute right to do.”  Initial reports speculated that Iran was trying to launch a satellite, but Trump said “they were going to set off a big missile, and it didn’t work out too well.”

Two Iranian space launch attempts earlier this year failed, fueling speculation that sabotage might be at play.  Trump’s tweet conveyed that the United States was not involved in this case at least.

Iranian officials confirmed today that it was a technical malfunction, adding that it took place at a test site, not a launch site, and no satellite had been transferred to the site yet.  Iran is readying the Nahid-1 satellite for launch, but Iran’s FARS news agency reports it is safe and sound.

Trump’s release of the image startled a lot of people since usually the U.S. Government does not want adversaries to know the capabilities of our imaging satellites. And it didn’t take long for amateur satellite trackers to identify what satellite it was and exactly when the image was acquired.  Marco Langbroek of the Netherlands deduced it is USA 224, reportedly a KH-11 imaging satellite.

NPR did a nice story on Langbroek’s analysis with quotes from other experts surprised that the President would release it and at just how good the imagery is.

ESA Avoids Collision with SpaceX Satellite

The European Space Agency (ESA) took the somewhat unusual step of announcing today that it had to maneuver one of its satellites, Aeolus, to avoid a collision with a satellite that is part of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.  ESA added that it must maneuver a number of its satellites every year — 28 last year — but this is the first time to avoid one that is part of a so-called “mega constellation.”

The term refers to groups of thousands of small satellites being launched by SpaceX, OneWeb and other companies into low Earth orbits for global telecommunications services. SpaceX launched its first cluster of 60 Starlink satellites on a single Falcon 9 in May 2019, part of an eventual constellation of 11,800 such satellites.  Three of the 60 did not work properly. SpaceX said they will “passively deorbit.”  Another two are being intentionally deorbited to simulate end-of-life disposal.  The satellite in question, Starlink 44, reportedly is one of the latter.

ESA pointed out that typically it must maneuver out of the way of space debris or other objects that are incapable of moving themselves, but it is rare to do so with active satellites like this one.

Jonathan O’Callaghan, writing for Forbes, reports that SpaceX “refused” to move its satellite. []. He quotes Holger Krag, head of ESA’s space debris office, as noting that no one did anything wrong, it’s that “there are no rules in space. … Space is not organized. And so we believe we need technology to manage this traffic.”

A 2009 collision between an active U.S. Iridium communications satellite, Iridium-33, and a defunct Russian military communications satellite, Kosmos 2251, created a huge swarm of space debris.  That happened two years after a Chinese antisatellite test shattered one of its own satellites into thousands of pieces of debris, posing hazards for satellites for many decades to come.

The two events gave the issue of how to keep space usable for future generations new urgency, the “space sustainability” debate. The Secure World Foundation has a number of useful reports and other products explaining what it is all about.

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