Enoch has been identified!

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Today, CSpoC positively identified Enoch, the CubeSat memorializing astronaut Robert Henry Lawrence, which launched on a Falcon 9 in December 2018,  as object 2018-099V, or NORAD number 43777.  You can search for it by name in Orbitrack as “LACMA Enoch” (LACMA being the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which sponsored the development of the satellite).

There is some back story here.  Now that it’s all turned out well, I can share it with you.

As I was driving home from the launch, Spaceflight Industries called with some unsettling news.  Telemetry from the payload carrier indicated that the door on Enoch’s dispenser had opened, but the pusher plate intended to shove it out into space had not extended.  What did this mean?  Enoch could be jammed inside the dispenser.  Or, dangling partway out into space.  Or, maybe everything is just fine, and the state switch on the deployer door was faulty. Or the bit in the telemetry indicating the state was corrupted.

Over the next few days we played an anxious game of counting the number of independent payloads dispensed from the SSO-A carrier vehicle.  There were 64 payloads aboard.  If only 63 showed up in space-track’s catalog of orbiting objects, then we had a problem.  A note for the uninitiated – identifying CubeSats after they are newly deployed on orbit is a notoriously difficult business.  At first they are clustered too close together to be distinguished on NORAD’s tracking radars.  And even after they have been observed as distinct objects, it’s often quite difficult to tell who is who.  It’s not uncommon for CubeSats to be “dead on arrival” … and figuring out which piece of space debris belongs to who, is a daunting task.

Fortunately, Enoch carries an experimental radio tracking beacon, supplied by the US Government as part of a program to tag-and-identify every object launched into space.  That beacon is completely self contained; it’s the size of a few sugar cubes, and it transmits for 90 days, or until its internal battery runs out.  The radars which listen for it do double-duty listening for aliens at SETI’s Allen Telescope Array.  The day after Enoch reached orbit, December 4th, those radars did indeed receive a signal which looked very much like Enoch’s beacon … but the satellite that the radio telescope dishes were pointed was in a cluster of other unresolved SSO-A payloads.

A second transmission was detected on January 5th.  This time, it was unambiguous: only one of the SSO-A payloads was within the beam of the listening radio dishes.  But the government research agency that supplied Enoch’s radio beacon wanted additional time to eliminate some possible “false signal” scenarios before making an official pronouncement.  We’re happy to say that all the i’s have been dotted and all the t’s are now crossed.  Enoch, definitively, deployed from the SSO-A carrier vehicle, and is an independently orbiting object catalogued as NORAD object 43777 or 2018-099V.