re: Top 10

Philip Chien (
Mon, 10 Jun 1996 22:40:19 -0400

>Phil Chien writes:
>> here's my [list of] top ten visual satellites
>> Mir
>> DoD-1
>> Hubble
>> Shuttle
>> Intelsat 6-3 (of course only visible to the naked eye while it was in its
>> "parking" orbit)
>> Eureca - one rare case where I've seen a satellite on the ground, in orbit,
>> and after it was retrieved.
>> SEDS-2
>> Lacrosee 1
>> TSS-1R

Walter Nissen questioned:

>Speaking of vulgar names, is DoD-1 the same as USA 89?  Or an earlier one?

Yes.  DoD-1 is USA 89, a/k/a SDS-2, a/k/a the primary payload for the
STS-53 shuttle mission, a/k/a NORAD ID 22518, or 1992  86B.  DoD-1 was the
official unclassified NASA designation for the payload.

>Aren't LDEF, Eureca, SEDS-2 and TSS-1R a bit difficult to spy these days?

a tad, but if you really really try hard ...  ;-)

The point of my post was that any top 10 (or top 50) list is fairly
aribitrary, and depends on what you're most interested in.

Some folks have commented that only satellites which are visible from
higher latitudes should be included in any list of popular satellites to
track.  To those latitude challenged people I say THHHPPT!  Every location
has its own advantages and disadvantages - make do with what you've got or
move.  Just because you live on Captiol Hill or are North of the highest
latitude which a satellite reaches doesn't mean you can't participate.

Different people have different criteria for their personal favorites.  I
probably saw one of the Echo inflatable balloons as a child - but it never
made an impression on me - at least not anything which I remember.

I clearly remember my first intentional satellite observation, based on
data provided by a local space club, the STS 51-D Discovery as it passed
over Florida just before sunrise.

Even though rocket bodies are easy to view I've got little interest in them
- I'm more interested in the operational spacecraft, especially ones which
I know something about, or have seen in person before launch.

In any case, my list is primarily ones which have left a strong impression
on me - most are no longer visible (e.g. DoD-1 and Intelsat 6-3 are now in
much higher altitude orbits) and some are no longer in orbit.  DoD-1 is
especially important to me because Sean Sullivan and myself were the ones
who correctly deduced what its purpose was - several weeks before launch.
Not by rumor or guesswork, but by simple Physics 101.  And it was an
incredible sight to see it go overhead just before STS-53 was scheduled to
land.  Several months later I had one of the astronauts from that flight
(who's name will remain anonymous to protect him) autograph Sean's photo of
that pass.  He still has a hard time explaining to people who he shows that
photo to why it's a non-sequiter to have that particular photo autographed!

So DoD-1 has a special place in my heart.

The Spartan/IAE would certainly make my list if the *?<@#)(!@ weather had

I'd suspect that everybody's got their own personal list of favorite visual
satellites for their own reasons.

Philip Chien, Earth News - space writer and consultant  PCHIEN@IDS.NET
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