RE: Space debris found in Spain?

From: Ted Molczan via Seesat-l <seesat-l_at_satobs.org>
Date: Sat, 14 Nov 2015 03:26:06 -0500
I have been looking into this case with the help of Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos and Jon Mikel, who are attempting
to make contact with knowledgeable local sources. I have been sifting through media reports for clues.

Some of the Spanish newspaper articles mentioned the sighting of 7-8 fireballs early on the morning of Sunday Nov 3 -
the same day that the first sphere was found. Late Friday afternoon, I finally found one by La Verdad, that provides
some useful details:

http://www.laverdad.es/murcia/201511/10/podemos-saber-tiene-origen-20151110004915-v.html

«Vimos un conjunto de bolas de fuego. Eran siete u ocho». Es lo que afrman con vehemencia los dos vecinos de Calasparra
que supuestamente podrían aclarar las causas por las que han sido localizadas dos supuestas esferas espaciales en la
misma semana y con una distancia entre sí de solo 12 kilómetros. La primera la encontraron dos pastores, el pasado
martes, en el paraje de Los Llanos del Cagitán de Mula. Ese día, estos vecinos iban andando como cada mañana por el
paraje de Las Cumbres, cuando, a las 7 horas, esas supuestas bolas envueltas en llamas «pasaron por encima de nosotros.
No hemos visto nada igual jamás».

Las pudieron observar surcando el cielo apenas siete segundos. «Sentimos un poco de miedo, porque no sabíamos qué
podían ser ni dónde iban a caer». Después de perderlas de vista escucharon un estruendo. «Cayeron sobre el Cagitán y
las zonas adyacentes», detallan estos calasparreños que no quieren desvelar sus identidades por el revuelo mediático
que sacude estos días el municipio.

Here is a rough translation, aided by Google and Bing:

<<< "We saw a group of fireballs. There were seven or eight." It is what the two Calasparra
neighbors emphatically claim could supposedly clarify the causes that have located two alleged space spheres in the
same week, and within distances of only 12 kilometers. The first was found by two shepherds, last Tuesday [Nov 3] in
the area of ??Los Llanos Cagitán Mula. That day, these neighbors were walking, like every morning, by Las Cumbres,
when, at 7 am, these alleged balls wrapped in flames "passed over us. We have not ever seen anything like it."

They could observe them in the sky just seven seconds. «We felt a little afraid, because we didn't know what they could
be or where they fell.» After losing sight of them they heard a roar. «They fell on the Cagitán and adjacent areas,»
detail these calasparrenos, who don't want to reveal their identities by the media frenzy shaking the town these days.
>>>

That puts the sighting at 7 AM local time (6 UTC), which I take to be approximate. The witnesses were in Las Cumbres,
perhaps 10 km north of the location of the first sphere in Cagitán. The translation is confusing, but it seems that
they thought that the fireball headed toward Cagitán, which would mean that it travelled more or less southward.

With Vicente-Juan's help, I have plotted the approximate locations of the spheres, which we know to an accuracy of
perhaps a few km:

http://satobs.org/seesat_ref/misc/Sphere_locations.jpg

The kml file used to generate the plot is below. It includes the location of a metal strip found about 80 km to the NE
of the spheres, that may be related:

http://satobs.org/seesat_ref/misc/2015_Nov_03_COPV_Spain_v5.kml

For now, I am concentrating on the spheres, since they look very much like others that have survived re-entry. News
reports disagree on the distance between them, reports range between 12 km and 22 km. My plot has them 16 km apart.
Hopefully, we will eventually obtain GPS coordinates.

Assuming the spheres fell from orbit, and that the track of the parent object roughly paralleled their locations, it
must have been in a quasi-60 deg orbit, headed southeast. None of the objects officially reported to have decayed on
or near Nov 3 were in such an orbit. The object may be one that USSTRATCOM has lost track of or never catalogued.
Alternatively, it could be one of the many payloads and rocket bodies in secret orbits.

I checked whether USSTRATCOM had recently lost any large objects that could have been near decay on Nov 3, but found no
likely candidates. That leaves the secret orbit hypothesis. The quasi-60 deg inclination suggests something in a
Molniya orbit, which would be inclined about 63 deg. An object decaying over the region where the spheres fell, on
Nov 3 at 06 UTC, southeast-bound, would have had the following approximate elements:

1 70000U          15307.25000000  .00000000  00000-0  00000-0 0    03
2 70000  63.0000 334.0500 0000100   0.0000 136.0000 16.75000000    03

A review of hobbyist and ISON orbital data revealed a possible candidate: the Centaur stage that launched USA 200
(Trumpet Follow-On 2) in 2008. Here is Mike McCants' latest TLE:

                                                       121 X 18115 km
1 32707U 08010B   15289.40313309  .03311873  00000-0  17412-2 0    02
2 32707  62.9185 353.6956 5805905 250.5777 120.6969  4.50000000    06

Cees Bassa produced a more recent TLE from ISON data, but the eccentricity is higher than ISON's, so I have adjusted it
to yield a more reasonable perigee height:

                                                       102 X 14143 km
1 32707U 08010B   15296.44015047  .00058737  00000-0  88722-3 0    09
2 32707  63.3923 350.0438 5200000 252.1662  93.1740  5.53358877    17

I used Satevo to force the orbit to decay near the time of the fireball sighting, by adjusting the rate of decay by
trial and error. This is the result:

                                                          84 X 624 km
1 32707U 08010B   15307.22600090 6.14818430  27143 2  38885-2 0 90002
2 32707  63.1895 336.7510 0401217 252.2472 103.3345 15.71360157   923

The RAAN is very close to that of my theoretical orbit, which tends to support the hypothesis that 08010B was the
decaying object.

Here is the latest ISON orbit:

                                                         95 X 9132 km
1 32707U 08010B   15299.95722222  .00000000  00000-0  00000-0 0    08
2 32707  62.9960 346.8510 4110660 252.8860  58.9234  7.53272858    07

Forcing it to decay near the time of the fireball yields this result:

                                                          80 X 644 km
1 32707U 08010B   15307.19783405 4.58242035  16162 2  23665-2 0 90007
2 32707  62.8021 334.9245 0418718 253.3246 102.0385 15.68538686   739

The RAAN is within 1 deg of the theoretical orbit of the decaying object. Very close, but I am not ready to declare the
case solved.

I need to verify that the Centaur stage in question had at least two COPV tanks of the size and mass found. Based on a
quick review, I believe that the Atlas-V Centaur originally carried three spherical helium tanks, with the ability to
carry a fourth for extended missions, but that this was modified in favour of two large, cylindrical tanks. I suspect
that the Centaur in question is of the older design. I would be grateful for advice on this issue, especially the
number, size and mass of tanks, and whether they were COPV.

Also, I want to use the numerical integrator in GMAT to verify that 08010B could actually have decayed over Spain,
which was far from perigee, where decays typically occur. This may take a few days. The analysis would be aided by more
precise information on the time of the fireball sighting, as well as a clear description of the trajectory.

I am also interested to learn the results of expert analysis of the spheres and the metal strip. Do they show signs of
re-entry heating? Is the metal strip related to the spheres? If it is, it would invalidate the 08010B re-entry
hypothesis, because it would require a quasi-45 deg inclination, NNE bound.

I am interested in other hypotheses, as well as independent evaluation of 08010B.

Ted Molczan

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Received on Sat Nov 14 2015 - 02:27:10 UTC

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