RE: NROL-38 pre-launch elements

From: Ted Molczan (
Date: Sat Jun 16 2012 - 19:59:37 UTC

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    Bob Christy wrote:
    > If it helps, and you have not factored it in, there is a NOTAM for the
    > upper stage de-orbit:
    > WITHIN AN AREA BNDD BY 1900N/17930E 1530N/16900W 0930N/17100W
    > 1300N/17730E. SFC-UNL. 18 JUN 21:14 2012 UNTIL 18 JUN 22:19 2012.
    > CREATED: 16 JUN 01:18 2012
    An excelled find, Bob; and indeed it does help. It did not occur to me that the Centaur would be de-orbited on a GEO
    mission. The time and location does not fit well with either of the GTO TLEs I estimated. The duration from launch
    appears to be less than 9 h. If it is a GEO mission, then perhaps the GTO is of the low-altitude type that leave
    considerable manoeuvring to the payload to reach the final orbit. A manoeuvre near apogee to bring about the Centaur's
    de-orbit would explain the need for thermal paint. I need to put some numbers to this.
    There is some evidence that the window may not be planar, as would be expected for an inclined GEO mission. It seemed
    inconclusive, so I discounted it. This could mean that the intended orbit is geostationary, i.e. zero deg inclination,
    or perhaps not GEO at all.
    Others have noted the three-headed dragon on the patch, that has long been associated with SIGINT or COMINT missions.
    Considering the high-level warning issued several years ago to avoid those sorts of leaks, I have tended to discount
    recent patches, many of which have been rather bland. I have also been wary of the possibility that new patches might
    use old themes in new ways to muddy the record. Yet some recent patches seem to have revealed useful information.
    I intend to look into this further, perhaps tonight.
    Ted Molczan
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