Monday, January 14, 2019


People have been watching artificial satellites since 1957 (alerted by news reports, I saw the Sputnik booster slowly flashing one autumn evening just after my 13th birthday) as lights crossing the dawn and dusk skies. They’re not particularly spectacular except for what they represent.

But sometimes the satellite is doing something unusual. Some fly in formation, usually in long-term alignments, at other times briefly during rendezvous or separation maneuvers. Some release fluids that form brief comet-like streaks. Once in a great while, a few deploy long tethers which are actually visible, mostly with binoculars. These on-orbit apparitions are fairly well documented across the Internet. 

Sometimes these multiple satellite formations are misperceived as lights on a single large object, and it becomes a ‘UFO report’ --

Formation flying with shuttles or space station was regularly observable [I first saw this when STS-7 deployed and then retrieved the SPAS-01 satellite in 1983, from outside Mission Control, through binoculars]. “Space chases” when a rendezvousing vehicle was 15-20 minutes behind its target were particularly intriguing to watch because the chaser’s path was clearly displaced in the sky from its just-seen target satellite.  They were actually on the same path, but Earth’s rotation carried the observer sideways during the interval between the two passes, so the paths did not look identical.

 Shuttle waste water dumps are described here --  --

… with a discussion of the different sizes of particles here:

Despite what sites like this claim, the water wasn’t urine, it was a byproduct of the electricity-producing ‘fuel cells’ [on space station visits, the water was bagged and transferred to the station, and only dumped on the way back to Earth]…

Since the space station recycles its waste water [mostly urine since it does not use fuel cells for power], it rarely dumps water. Occasional thrusting by docked supply vehicles boosts the station higher and might be visible from the ground, but I’m not aware of any reports.

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