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

UPDATE! 9/10/2020

While not technically a dead satellite, GOES 15 was taken offline and placed in “orbital storage” in March of 2020 and slated to be used as a backup in case GOES 16, or GOES 17 failed. Well GOES 17 has a problem with its coolant pipes for its ABI instrument. Four times a year, when the Sun really heats up the 17 satellite, they have to run it a bit less frequently. Unfortunately, this happens to coincide with the Pacific cyclone season. So, too pick up the slack, NOAA took GOES 15 out of orbital storage and is using it to fill the gaps in GOES 17 coverage. Here is an example I received from GOES 15, relayed through the GOES 17 Satellite.

GOES 15 Long Wave IR

Another Re purposed satellite is GOES 13

GOES-13 is now transmitting again, now under the direction of the US Space Force and Department of Defense, GOES-13 is now known as the Electro-Optical Infrared Weather System – Geostationary or EWS-G1. EWS-G1 was maneuvered into a new Geostationary Orbit to a new position at 61.5 degrees east longitude in mid-February 2020 over the Indian Ocean. It was declared fully operational (again) on Sept 8, 2020. It is now being received and decoded by other radio hobbyists Decoding EWS-G1 or GOES-13.