Object 90020

From: Mike McCants (mmccants@io.com)
Date: Mon Feb 16 2004 - 16:27:11 EST

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    Object 90020 was discovered by Peter Birtwhistle, U. K. on Feb 8.
    I was able to observe this object on Saturday evening.
    It was observed for over 10 minutes from 2:50 until 3:00 PM UT Feb. 15.
    The altitude was 32 degrees, the azimuth was 60 degrees and the range
    was about 15000 miles.  The observations were with an 8 inch telescope
    under very dark and clear skies.  The magnification used was 90x.
    When I first spotted it, the object "flashed" every 2.25 seconds
    to magnitude 9 or 9.5.  "Tumbles" were visible in between the flashes.
    After a few minutes, the flashes faded out and only the tumbles
    were observed.  The tumbles were to about magnitude 10.  The
    tumbles were timed to have a period of 4.5 seconds.
    My tentative conclusions:
    This is a large object.  Tumbles to magnitude 10 at that range
    means the object is something like 10 to 15 feet long and about
    3 feet in diameter.  It is bright enough to be a large payload or
    a Centaur rocket.
    This is probably not a rocket.  The flashes that were observed
    indicate some very flat reflecting surface.  Although occasional
    flashes have been seen from rockets, such flashes are rare enough
    that the fact that flashes have been observed from this object
    so often would imply that it is not a rocket.  An alternative to
    a flat reflecting surface would be antennas.
    This object is no longer being "controlled" and thus it is not
    going to maneuver.
    I am not aware of any other object that matches this description.
    I would have to guess that this is a large payload like USA 112 (95 34A),
    but it is no longer being controlled.
    The orbit plane does not match the predicted orbit plane for any payload
    in an orbit like this that I am aware of.
    A post by Ted Molczan in Sept., 2000.
    From that post:
    The plane of the real 95034A is expected to lie roughly mid-way between the
    planes of 94026A and 97068A, which are currently about 127 deg apart.
    This object seems to be about mid-way between the orbit planes of those
    two lost objects.
    Unknown 040208
    1 90020U 04539A   04045.81988695 -.00000800  00000-0 -74658-0 0    02
    2 90020  65.0528 349.2977 6951619 273.6400  86.3600  2.00702958    05
    Mike McCants
    Austin, TX
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