Re: ALL satellites now called TBA - TO BE ASSIGNED on spacetrack :)

From: Charles D Phillips <>
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2014 11:56:50 -0600 (CST)
All -

This is from a long time lurker who found a conversation that he could
contribute to.

This does bring up a point that we would be smart to note - with a lot of new
organizations involved in satellites and contributing to objects that go in the
Catalog, things have changed. In the good old days it was simple to assign names
since few organizations contributed (the satellite catalog is still maintained
by a dedicated military group). I was a member of that group for several years,
when they were in Colorado.

Now, names are erratically contributed by several groups and there are many
people out there who just guess at the names. A good example is a CubeSat,
object 39436. It is labelled "50 SAT" in the Satellite Catalog but that is not
its name. The developer never intended to name it that, informally they referred
to it (prelaunch) by a similar name.

Another example is 2013-064, an ORS launch which occurred last November. Many
objects from that flight still have names like "ORS Object R" or similar, the
launching organization has just not updated the names. From looking at the TLEs
it is apparent what some of them are but the names have not been assigned.

2013-066 was a Dnepr launch also from last November, many of the objects have
had names assigned but some of them are obviously wrong.

Many of the problems are with CubeSats, due to the fact that they are launched
in large numbers and cannot be optically tracked.

ArduSat-1, ArduSat-X, and Pico Dragon are good examples - all deployed (also
last November) from ISS. They caused me confusion and so I got them named
correctly. I use GPredict a lot and it is set up to find objects mostly by name,
so I had to do a few extra steps.

Object types can be a separate issue. I used to work at a radar tracker (Clear
Air Force Station, Alaska) and have seen many objects in the radar beam. It is
easy to tell many payloads from a rocket body, etc but it was often difficult to
work with the people who maintained the satellite catalog and get the right
object types assigned. I hope they have a better working relationship today!
When we tracked objects as they came over the horizon, the computer (assisted by
a very junior person who was running the tracking radar) tagged the first object
as the "payload" though it was mostly the rocket body - which was lower than the
payload and running ahead. Now with many small satellites, they all probably
look like "debris" or small objects that tumble. It likely takes an experienced
person at the radar and at the JSpOC to tell what is what. I have also seen
phased array radars at work, like the one at Eglin AFB, Florida and they are
very computer driven. The operators have little insight into what the computer
tags an object.

So today we have the official JSpOC satellite catalog and we have disagreements
between it and CelesTrak, Heaven's Above, N2YO, and enthusiast sites.

I have been working with Dr TS Kelso to get ArduSat-1 back into CelesTrak (so
that Gpredict will up date its position and I don't have to go get the TLE
myself) since some German site had concluded that it was inactive. I checked
with the developers and they assured us that it is quite active.

The Satellite Catalog is much more complex today and can cause us headaches and
extra work.

Charles D Phillips
Intelligent Commercial Spaceflight
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