March 20, 2019

02.02.11: A Russian Satellite Goes Astray.

The first launch of February sees a payload stuck in an elliptical transfer orbit, and an interesting opportunity for amateur observers. Yesterday, at 14:00 UT/9:00 AM EST, a Russian Rockot launch vehicle carrying GEO-IK2 lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. A military research satellite, GEO-IK2 has the dual role of providing research into plate tectonics and geodesics for both civilian and military applications (re: pinpoint positioning technology and mapping). Lifted aloft by the two-stage ballistic missile, a Breeze KM upper stage was to fire and deploy GEO-IK2 into a 600 mile orbit… and that’s where the finicky fate of rocket science struck.

The secondary stage has appeared to have mis-fired, and GEO-IK2 is now stuck along with its (presumably) separated booster in an elliptical polar transfer orbit. This orbit takes the pair from a perigee of 200 miles to an apogee of 600 miles. Needless to say, such an orbit probably won’t last long… all backyard satellite trackers are invited to hunt down the errant pair before eventual decay and re-entry. At apogee, the pair will be too faint to see with the naked eye; but at perigee, they might just be visible. It would also be an interesting exercise to compare the predictions with the actual orbit, and see if a visual confirmation of booster satellite separation can be made. Their specific designations are:

2011-005A/37362 & 2011-005B/37363

The pass pictured above is for the US Southeast, and is highly Astroguyz HQ-centric. Good luck, and be sure to follow us @astroguyz on Twitter for the latest updates!


  1. Jon Lawson-Broadhead says:

    I watched an odd (presumably) orbiting object earlier this evening (I’m in the UK)

    At 22:10UT on 2/2/2011 I noticed a magnitude 0.0 flash around the head of the constellation Orion. Around 80 seconds later I noticed the brief white flash again.

    It flashed for around 1/3 of a second appearing to move slightly each time. Over the course of 10-12 minutes it flashed around 6 times gradually moving towards the ‘Kids’ of the constellation Auriga. That was the last I saw of the object.

    From it’s motion it was a high inclination or polar orbit travelling south to north. Its motion was much much slower than say the ISS so I’m guessing a much higher orbit.

    Could this have been GEO-IK 2 or (more likely) the failed Breeze Upper Stage tumbling in it’s transfer orbit?

  2. David Dickinson says:

    Ran the location and time through Orbitron; GEO-IK 2 and the upper stage shouldn’t have been over UK at the time unless it was in a significantly diminished orbit. Plus that late at night the object would have to be in a highly elliptical orbit to be illuminated… but it does sound like a tumbling booster… might be an old one. Interestingly, NanoSail D was above the horizon at the time, but shouldn’t have been illuminated… thanks for posting… anyone else have any ideas?

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