Monday, January 23, 2017

The Zombie Satillite

This has the makings of a fine Sci-fi novel. Between 1965 and 1976 the USAF sponsored the design, construction and launch of a series of satellites built by Lincoln Laboratory at MIT.  The Lincoln Laboratory was not new. IT was founded in 1951 as a federally funded research lab focused on improving America's air defense system. It was only later they moved into space surveillance.

They built a series of satellites all named "Lincoln Experimental Satellite" and numbered sequentially, LES1 through LES9. Not all of them ended well. LES-7 ran out of funding and was cancelled. LES1 and LES2 both had booster failures and ended up accidentally in circular orbits. LES3 and LES4 also had launch problems and failed to end up in geostationary orbit.  But LES5, 6, 8 and 9 all ended up in the correct orbits. LES8 and LES9 actually operated until 1992 in the 36–38 GHz part of the K band. The Lincoln Lab had moved onto other projects.. that seemed to be the end until 2013.

LES1 was launched in 1965, and abandoned in 1967, assumed to simply be space junk. In February of 2013, Amateur Radio enthusiast, Phil Williams G3YPQ, from North Cornwall, UK, detected signals from LES1. The signal had a cyclical fading that was determined to be caused by it's rotating (tumbling) every 4 seconds.  It causes the voltage from the solar panels to fluctuate.

The theory is that the batteries onboard LES1 have failed in a manner that allows them to carry charge directly through to the single X-band transponder and an 8-horn electronically switched antenna on on 237 MHz.  But after 46 years the batteries have almost certainly disintegrated... so is the current flowing directly from the solar panels to the transponder? More here.

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