Jonathan's Space Report No. 554 - 2005 Sep 24

Status Report From: Jonathan's Space Report
Posted: Saturday, September 24, 2005


The Progress M-54 cargo spacecraft (factory number 354) was launched by Soyuz-U from Baykonur on Sep 8 and docked with Zvezda at 1442 UTC on Sep 10. Progress M-53 undocked from the Zvezda module at 1026 UTC on Sep 7 into a 350 x 351 km orbit; it fired its deorbit engine at 1326 UTC to lower perigee to 56 km, leading to reentry over the Pacific half an orbit later.

The next Shuttle flight is delayed indefinitely - engineers don't yet understand the aerodynamic data from the last flight. Damage to the External Tank manufacturing facility in New Orleans was less that feared, and ET work will continue there.


As expected, Kosmos-2415 entered its operational mapping orbit of 205 x 284 km x 64.9 deg on Sep 3.

Anik F1R

International Launch Services orbited a Proton-M/Briz on Sep 8 carrying the Anik F1R communications satellite.

Telesat Canada inaugurated Canada's domestic satellite communications service with the launch of Anik A1 in 1972. The first two 5-tonne Anik F satellites were launched in 2000 and 2004 using Boeing 702 satellites; Anik F1 has been experiencing solar panel power problems. Anik F1R is an Astrium Eurostar 3000S operating in C-band and Ku-band.

The Proton-M flew a suborbital trajectory; the Briz made one burn to low parking orbit and four more burns to a 3171 x 35608 km x 10 deg deployment orbit. Anik F1R then separated to being using its own engine to reach geostationary orbit.


Hayabusa is completing its rendezvous with asteroid Itokawa. On Sep 12 it began hovering at the 20 km "gate position". It will descend to 7 km in October.


DARPA's Streak classified research satellite, also called STP-R1 under the USAF's Space Test Program, was launched by Minotaur from Vandenberg on Sep 23. The satellite carries experimental sensors to study the orbital environment and is in a sun-synchronous orbit.


The NRO has declassified the existence of the Naval Research Lab's POPPY signals intelligence satellites. POPPY were probably small spherical (later, ellipsodal?) satellites, derived from the Vanguard spheres used for the predecessor program GRAB/DYNO. NRO says it will release pictures, but that hasn't happened yet: I predict POPPY will look like the GGSE satellites as seen here:

They were launched in clusters together with other small NRL satellites on Thor Agena D rockets. POPPY flew from 1962 to 1971, followed by the still-classified PARCAE program which began in 1976 and used triplets of satellites for radio interferometric measurements of signal locations. The GRAB satellites were 0.51m in diameter like Vanguard; POPPY may have been the same size initially and then increased to 0.61m in diameter. In fact, the early POPPY satellites may have been leftover GRAB vehicles, with the code name change simply due to the transfer of the GRAB mission from NRL to NRO in mid-1962. The RAE Tables indicate the shift to 0.61m diameter happened with the first POPPY launch, but I'm not sure RAE is a reliable source in this particular context.

Despite the declassification of POPPY, it's still not clear which satellites were POPPY satellites. Here I put down my own guesses, but mainly I point out that things are confused. Comments welcome.

The POPPY fact sheet says that "A total of seven POPPY satellites launched into space from 1962 to 1971", and gives the seven launch dates. This implies that only one POPPY satellite went up on each of the seven launches.

For the time being I am assuming that this is false and that it should read "There were a total of seven launches in the POPPY program from 1962 to 1971". The followon program starting in 1976 involved multiple satellites, and the final POPPY launch in 1971 consisted of four apparently identical satellites.

The alternate possibility is that one of the four 1971-110 payloads was a POPPY and the other three were something different. That's not impossible, but I'd be surprised.

On the assumption, then, that each launch might have multiple POPPY satellites, let's try and identify them. For each launch I list at the bottom of this all objects noted in the US Space Command SATCAT as payloads, and their SATCAT names. I also list the satellites listed for that launch date in a summary of NRL-launched spacecraft from the Naval Center for Space Technology; there's no mapping given between those names and the international designations (e.g. NRL 130 is one of the 1963-021 objects but we don't know which one). There are also blatant inconsistencies between the two sources - for instance, on 1963-021 "Dosimeter" and "PL 112" are separate satellites in the NCST list, in contrast to 1963-021D "RADOSE 112" which suggests the two are the same radiation dosimeter satellite.

Nevertheless, we can make some guesses. Look at the NCST listings, and accept my guess that the last POPPY launch is the quartet of payloads 171-174, listed by NCST as gravity gradient experiments with masses of 123 to 128 kg. Then notice that the 1969-082 launch has similar payloads 161-164 with masses of 100-103 kg; and that 1967-053 has payloads 151 and 153 listed interspersed with GGSE 4 and 5:

           PL 151        Grav Grad expt.     52 kg   POPPY 5A? 1967-53G?
           GGSE IV       Grav Grad expt.     85 kg
           PL 153        Grav Grad expt.     77 kg   POPPY 5B? 1967-53H?
           GGSE V        Grav Grad expt.    105 kg

I'm guessing the GGSEs here are PL152 and PL154, completing the quartet. Published papers show they had different boom configurations. Now I'm guessing that the GGSE (Gravity Gradient Stabilization Experiment) series was linked to POPPY; that POPPY flights were gravity-stabilized and GGSE was used to improve them. GGSE satellites may be modified POPPY satellites with no ELINT payload, or may be fully functional POPPY with the GGSE test as an add-on experiment.

So working further back, in the previous launch (launch 4) there's no quartet, but we can look at a number of candidates: the classified statellites, the GGSE satellites, and the Solrad satellites.

Solrad satellites are possibilities because they were used in the GRAB (GREB) program, but I note that in the SATCAT the GREB name is given to PL 135 and PL142, not to SR VIIA and SR VIIB, so probably there was no room in a 24-inch sphere for both the POPPY and SR payloads and the programs were separated at the beginning of the POPPY program. What can we make of the SATCAT calling PL142 "GREB 6"? Maybe the Launch 1 and Launch 2 POPPY flights were initially called GRAB (or GREB) 5A and 5B, following on from the last known SR IVB flight of GRAB.

Launch 1:
           PL 120          Classified   POPPY 1A?   25 kg  62 B TAU 1?
           PL 121          Classified   POPPY 1B?   25 kg  62 B TAU 5?

Launch 2:
           SR VI         Solar X-rays 
           PL 112           Classified  POPPY 2?    27 kg  1963-21E?

Launch 3:
           SR VIIA       Solar X-rays
           GGSE 1        Grav grad exp.
           PL 135        Classified     POPPY 3?    39 kg  1964-01E

Launch 4:
           SR VIIB        Solar X-rays
           PL 142         Classified    POPPY 4?    48 kg  1965-16A
           GGSE II        Grav. grad exp.
           GGSE III       Grav. grad exp.

I'll advance the following hypotheses:

- Hypothesis 1. All the above satellites were POPPY or, in the case of GGSE, POPPY-related.

- Hypothesis 2: The POPPY satellites were SR VI, SR VIIA, SR VIIB, continuing the GRAB/SOLRAD cover story. The Dec 1962 launch was one or both of PL120 and PL121, with the other one perhaps being a thermal control experiment ("BLACK SPHERE" in the SATCAT; the "SURCAL 1" in the SATCAT is assumed to be an error, since SURCAL 1 was lost in a Jan 1962 launch failure). It's also possible that "BLACK SPHERE" and "CALSPHERE 1A" are really the same satellite. Both PL120 and PL121 had a mass of 55 kg, the same as GRAB.

- Hypothesis 3: After the GRAB program ended, the SOLRAD series became fully scientific because POPPY needed a whole satellite to itself and couldn't share. The GGSE satellites weren't related to POPPY. The POPPY satellites were PL120 and PL121; PL112; PL135; and PL142. I still think that PL 151/153, PL 161-164, PL171-174 were POPPY group flights. The role of PL176 (1962-082B) is still a mystery; it was a smaller (23 kg) NRL satellite that operated for 2 years.

- Hypothesis 4: the POPPY satellites aren't any of the ones listed here, but were packages which remained attached to the Agena rocket stages. This would let you have a single POPPY on the 1971-110 launch separate from the confusion of the four identical payloads; but I find it unlikely.

Right now, my best guess is Hypothesis 3.




           PL 120          Classified
           PL 121          Classified
           SURCAL II       SPASUR Calib
           CALSPHERE I     Object identification

POPPY LAUNCH 2: 1963-021

63-021B    LOFTI 2A        
63-021C    SOLRAD 6        
63-021D    RADOSE 112      
63-021E    FTV 1292
63-021F    SURCAL 1B

           SR VI            Solar X-rays
           LOFTI IIB        Low freq radio
           PL 112           Classified
           Dosimeter        Radiation counter
           SURCAL III       SPASUR calib

POPPY LAUNCH 3: 1964-001

64-001B    GGSE 1 (GGRS)
64-001D    SOLRAD 7A
64-001E    GREB

           SR VIIA       Solar X-rays
           GGSE 1        Grav grad exp.
           PL 135        Classified

POPPY LAUNCH 4: 1965-016

65-016A    OPS 4988 (GREB 6)
65-016B    GGSE 2
65-016C    GGSE 3
65-016D    SOLRAD 7B
65-016G    SURCAL 2
65-016H    PORCUPINE 1

           SR VIIB        Solar X-rays
           PL 142         Classified
           GGSE II        Grav. grad exp.
           GGSE III       Grav. grad exp.
           SURCAL IV      SPASUR calib.
           DODECAPOLE I   Object identification

POPPY LAUNCH 5: 1967-053


67-053A    OPS 5712 (P/L 160)
67-053C    GGSE 4
67-053D    GGSE 5
67-053E    TIMATION 1
67-053F    SURCAL 159
67-053G    OPS 5712 (P/L 152)
67-053H    OPS 5712 (P/L 153)
67-053J    SURCAL 150B

           PL 151        Grav Grad expt.
           GGSE IV       Grav Grad expt.
           PL 153        Grav Grad expt.
           GGSE V        Grav Grad expt.
           TIMATION I    Navigation
           CALSPHERE III Object identification
           CALSPHERE IV  Object identification

POPPY LAUNCH 6: 1969-082


(69-082A    OPS 1807    USAF/NRO Program A aft rack payload?)
69-082B    OPS 7613 (P/L 1) 
69-082C    TIMATION 2
69-082D    OPS 7613 (P/L 3)
69-082E    OPS 7613 (P/L 4)
69-082F    OPS 7613 (P/L 5)
69-082G    OPS 7613 (P/L 6)
69-082H    TEMPSAT
69-082K    SOICAL (CONE)

            PL 161        Grav grad expt.
            PL 162        Grav grad expt.
            PL 163        Grav grad expt.
            PL 164        Grav grad expt.
            TIMATION II   Navigation
            PL 176        Classified
            TEMPSAT II    Thermal design expt.            

POPPY LAUNCH 7: 1971-110

71-110A    OPS 7898 (P/L 1)
71-110C    OPS 7898 (P/L 2)
71-110D    OPS 7898 (P/L 3)
71-110E    OPS 7898 (P/L 4)

NCST:       PL 171          Grav grad expt.
            PL 172          Grav grad expt.
            PL 173          Grav grad expt.
            PL 174          Grav grad expt.

Table of Recent Launches

Date UT       Name            Launch Vehicle  Site            Mission    INTL.  
Jul  5 2240   SJ-7              CZ-2D           Jiuquan          Sci         24A
Jul 10 0330   Suzaku            M-V             Uchinoura        XR Astron.  25A
Jul 26 1439   Discovery         Shuttle         Kennedy LC39B    Spaceship   26A
Aug  2 0730   FSW 21            CZ-2C           Jiuquan          Imaging     27A 
Aug 11 0820   Thaicom 4         Ariane 5GS      Kourou           Comms       28A
Aug 12 1143   MRO               Atlas V 401     Canaveral SLC41  Mars probe  29A
Aug 13 2328   Galaxy 14         Soyuz-FG/Fregat Baykonur LC31    Comms       30A
Aug 23 2110   Kirari (OICETS) ) Dnepr           Baykonur LC109   Tech        31A
              Reimei (INDEX)  )                                  Tech        31B
Aug 26 1834   Monitor-E         Rokot           Plesetsk         Imaging     32A
Aug 29 0845   FSW 22            CZ-2D           Jiuquan          Imaging     33A
Sep  2 0950   Kosmos-2415       Soyuz-U         Baykonur LC31    Imaging     34A
Sep  8 1308   Progress M-54     Soyuz-U         Baykonur LC1     Cargo       35A
Sep  8 2153   Anik F1R          Proton-M/Briz-M Baykonur LC200/39 Comms      36A
Sep 23 0224   STP-R1            Minotaur        Vandenberg SLC8  Tech        37A
|  Jonathan McDowell                 |  phone : (617) 495-7176            |
|  Somerville MA 02143               |  inter :   |
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