Amateur Satellite Watcher Discovers NASA's Dead Satellite is Alive

  • Contributor

    An amateur satellite observer scanning frequencies for ZUMA has discovered another satellite thought to be dead - is alive!

    While scanning some side bands, Scott Tilley, found something else surprising.

    Upon reviewing the data from January 20, 2018, I noticed a curve consistent with an satellite in High Earth Orbit (HEO) on 2275.905MHz, darn not ZUMA… This is not uncommon during these searches. So I set to work to identify the source.
    A quick identity scan using ‘strf’ (sat tools rf) revealed the signal to come from 2000-017A, 26113, called IMAGE.


    So with an undead satellite to monitor, I took up the task of collecting more data about it and let the system carry on without me in the search for ZUMA for a few hours. Based on information in the NASA failure report and eoPortal the nominal spin rate of the spacecraft was noted as around 0.5 rpm that’s a period of about 120 seconds. By monitoring with my real-time receiver (see below) I was able to notice both a subtle period in the signal amplitude and frequency that appeared to be coincident.


    NASA confirmed they were on it, and immediately started a small team to investigate.

    I have attached the TLE I got this morning from JSPoC/CARA. Looks like a close match. We are in the process of engaging the Deep Space Network to see if they can get a signal lock. They (JPL/DSN) are in the process of digging up 13-year old configuration files for that attempt. The DSN has evolved since then so some adjustments to their system setups will be required.

    This is ongoing, with a few amateurs confirming that you can do this simple observation with cheap hardware. Others confirmed that all eyes were on deck looking for any signs of the presumed lost top-secret ZUMA hardware. The hardware is thought to be recently lost by a failed separation from SpaceX's last commercial payload launch.


  • Contributor

    @shitshitshit said in Amateur Satellite Watcher Discovers NASA's Dead Satellite is Alive:

    so called amateur astronomers are

    They might be "so called amateurs" but they are very much in their own right capable of more things that the "professional"s are. Never underestimate simple people with cheap hardware.

  • Contributor

    @dontgive this story alone tells volumes about how sophisticated and passionate some so called amateur astronomers are. Indeed a lot of them have more knowledge and know how than many professionals because they do everything by themselves, including their observation decks and tools. Plus they often know the night skies better. That's why so many comets and other space bodies are discovered by them.

    Pretty serious in fact and the only domain where they have less capabilities is the financial one. Wake me up when an amateur astronomer will have an instrument that will cost a few million $$. That would be a nice thing, though.

    Anyway if an amateur astronomer can by himself remind the obnoxious NASA that they forgot a satellite in space while searching for a spy satellite that was officially lost, that tells us at least 3 things: