RE: Finding the size of an orbiting object.

From: Ted Molczan (
Date: Fri Jan 03 2003 - 06:59:34 EST

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    Daniel Crawford asked:
    > If I wanted to know the size of a satellite, rocket or piece 
    > of debris, how would I find out?
    Mike McCants provides excellent information on his web site.
    Go to his programs page:
    File Quicksat, found in, contains size and brightness 
    data for over 3000 objects. Up to 3 dimensions are provided for 
    many of the objects. RCS (radar cross-section) values are 
    provided for nearly all of the objects. Brightness data is in the
    Form of intrinsic magnitude (1000 km, zero deg phase).
    The file is included with Mike's Quicksat ephemeris generator, 
    which is in file The doc file includes a detailed
    description of the Quicksat data file.
    Go to Mike's main page:
    Near the bottom you will find, which provides RCS values
    For over 8100 objects. These are median values compiled by Mike
    over more than five years. The median values are more reliable than
    the random single values provided by NASA/OIG.
    Go to Mike's elements page:
    The mccants file contains recent orbital elements for the more 
    than 1600 objects are most likely to be of interest to visual
    observers. Each 2-line elset is preceded by a name line, for
    Vanguard 2 r     1.2  0.5  0.0  9.1 d 0.69
    This means that Vanguard 2's rocket body is a 1.2 m long, 0.5 m 
    diameter cylinder, with an intrinsic visual magnitude of 9.1 
    (1000 km, 90 deg phase) with a an RCS value of 0.69 m^2.
    The "d" means the intrinsic visual magnitude was estimated from the
    object's dimensions. A "v" denotes magnitude derived from visual
    Ted Molczan
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