Zombie Satellites

There is a lot of stuff in orbit around the earth, and the vast majority is junk, still orbiting the earth. Vanguard I, launched in 1958 has been up there slinging around the earth now for over 6 decades. Long since ‘dead’ other satellites sometimes reach the ends of their lives due to various reasons. In 2010 Galaxy 15, silent for about a year spontaneously reset itself and began transmitting again. Which was bad, because controllers on earth could not control the transmissions, it posed a hazard to other satellites, and they finally figured out how to put it “safe” mode where it remains today.

Recently, The LES-5 satellite launched in 1967, which was an early experiment in satellite-based communications. It was decommissioned and placed in a “graveyard orbit” in 1972. I was considered dead, that is until 2020 when Scott Tilley, an amateur radio operator living in British Columbia, who makes a hobby of re-establishing contact with long-lost satellites, ‘found it” . Tilley has helped NASA locate the IMAGE satellite, lost for 13 years in Earth’s orbit, as well as one of the U.S. Navy’s Transit series of navigational satellites. Recently Tilley took interest in LES-5, an experimental satellite developed by MIT’s Lincoln Lab, and launched into orbit in 1967.

So what else is up there? Well there is NOAA-9, never able to be decommissioned, it lost all orbital control and began tumbling as it orbited the earth. The last contact occurred on February 13, 1998. In late 1999 a transmitter started working again, sending an unmodulated carrier. It seems to transmit while the satellite is in sunlight. Just picture this satellite slowly spinning, solar panels every now and then, when conditions are JUST RIGHT, and someone is listening, you can hear it lonely carrier wave.

I caught this fleeting sound from what I think was NOAA 9 on 136.77 MHz as it was directly above my station on April 29th, 2020. It is only 9 seconds of audio…


My first recording of NOAA 9 in October of 2019

NOAA 9 recorded October 2019

Want to see everything being tracked up there? Heres A real-time interactive WebGL visualisation of objects in Earth orbit http://stuffin.space

Or try out the Celestrak Orbit Visualizer https://celestrak.com/cesium/orbit-viz.php?tle=/pub/TLE/catalog.txt&satcat=/pub/satcat.txt&referenceFrame=1