The Black Knight satellite is claimed by some conspiracy theorists to be an object approximately 13,000 years old of extraterrestrial origin orbiting Earth in near-polar orbit.
Good detective method of thinking by James Oberg
Phantom satellite? What IS it? What ISN’T it?
— Several still images on NASA website
— Entitled “STS-88 debris”
— BLACK shape with bright highlights.
— Weird changing shape excites some folks.
— Somehow absorbed into pre-existing myth of a pre-Space-Age phantom moonlet.
— Wild imaginations regarding vehicle’s origin, purpose, and proper treatment.
— Prosaic explanation disappoints many.
December 3-15, 1998, ‘Discovery’, crew of Bob Cabana, Rick Sturckow, Nancy Currie, Jim Newman, Jerry Ross, and Sergey Krikalyov
First shuttle mission in support of assembly of International Space Station
•Mission: Grab Russian ‘FGB’ module already in low orbit, attach it to US ‘Node 1’ in payload bay, perform spacewalks to install equipment
•Crew also briefly enters Node 1 and FGB
STS-88 Shuttle Mission Imagery
•Bring up Node-1, mount it atop airlock
•Rendezvous with already-launched FGB [from Russia]
•Grapple it with Canadian robot arm “in the blind”
•Berth it atop Node-1 “in the blind”
•Spacewalks for outfitting, connecting; brief internal visit as well
•Oberg trajectory role — http://www.jamesoberg.com/orbits14.pdf
Oberg led orbital design team
•Joint NASA/Russia ‘Technical Interface Meetings’ to choose orbit alignment between ISS and existing Mir space station
•Final agreement: Same orbital inclination as Mir [51.6⁰] but ‘ascending node’ [equator crossing in celestial coordinates] was very different, so orbits were significantly out of plane.
•This was NASA’s going-in desire, so as to prevent Moscow substituting old ‘Mir’ for promised new habitation module.
•For entirely different reason [avoiding Mir/ISS tracking sites overlap], Russian side also wanted planar misalignment
•Shortly before launch, Moscow changed mind, asked orbit be made co-planar to insure Mir compatibility; NASA refused and stuck with Oberg’s original plan
•Oberg received ‘Sustained Superior Performance’ award
“Mystery Object” is connected to “trunnion pins”
•What is a trunnion pin?
•Why do big shuttle payloads have them?
•Post-deploy, how can they be a problem?
•What can be done about the problem?
•What can go wrong when doing it?
•How can imagery of that be misinterpreted?
•One of the EVA tasks was installing thermal covers over the four trunnion pins on the Node. These are the stubby poles extending from its sides that had locked into sockets along the wall and keel of the Space Shuttle Orbiter’s payload bay during launch to docking. Attached to round ‘skid plate’.
•Once the node was deployed, the trunnion pins were useless. But as bare metal, they were ‘heat leaks’ into space. Strapping a blanket over each one would save a lot of power, since now it would not be needed for heating.
What shape for the cover?
•The insulation blanket would need a ‘sleeve’ to slip over the long trunnion pin itself
•It would also need a reflective flat circular covering for the round metallic skid plate
•It would need flaps at points along the plate’s circumference to easily attach to existing frames on the module, using bulky gloves
•It would have to contain handling loops and tiedowns for transport by the spacewalker
•It would need to fold up for stowage inside the shuttle cabin and to pass through hatches
Thermal cover fabrication
Two spacewalks were needed for numerous assembly, connecting, and deploying operations [performed by Jerry Ross and Jim Newman].
Different blankets on Russian FGB
The second thermal blanket photo is on the Russian FGB module
— you can see the Cyrillic letter ‘B’ on the panel —
and none of them were dropped this time.
Thermal blanket ready to install
From video of spacewalkers on STS-88 [December 1998]
Where were the thermal covers installed?
•from STS-88 CBS archive http://www.cbsnews.com/network/news/space/STS-88_Archive.txt
•”Jerry, one of the thermal covers got away from you,” Cabana radioed. “How did it do that?” Ross asked. “Jim saw a tether, I’ll guarantee you. Where did it go?” “It’s out my _” “I don’t believe this,” Ross said, sounding dismayed. “Jerry, which tether did it come off of?” Newman asked a few moments later. “I need to know which one not to trust.”
•NORAD satellite catalog: http://planet4589.org/space/log/satcat.txt
Object number 025570, international designator 1998-067C EVA debris — Trunnion pin cover [NASA] LEO/I 92.26 379 x 391 x 51.6
•Launch 1998 Dec 4 Reentered 1998 Dec 14 – 1998 Dec 10
Jerry Ross Q&A
•Interview questions received from astronaut Jerry Ross on October 15, 2014, by James Oberg Q: [Shuttle commander] Cabana called out the escape of this cover, right? What were your first thoughts? A: What are you talking about? Where is it? And where did it come from?
•Q: Do you recall which trunnion pin didn’t get covered? Did this blanket have a specific code name/number? A: I don’t remember which trunnion pin didn’t get covered. Jim Newman was supposed to put them all on from the foot restraint he was in on the end of the arm.
•But I was ahead of the timeline and they asked me to do one as a free floating task. I said OK and he handed it to me and I tethered to it (at least I thought so) and he untethered from it. We were both looking directly at it while this was being done.
•There were two different trunnion pin cover designs, one “left-handed” (-001) and one “right-handed” (-002) for the two sides and two ends.
Jerry Ross interview part 2
•Q: What kind of latch was on the tether and why do you suspect it failed? A: We used the same type of tethers for all of our tasks and they had a lock-lock design so that they could not accidently be opened. The tether points on the specific items were different and I do not remember exactly what the tether point on the cover was. Q:. Were you ready to go try to retrieve it, before it drifted off too fast? A: It was already too far away by the time it was noticed to be reached. Q: As it moved away did you have time to gaze at it and think about how it looked? A:I was too pissed at myself to wonder what it looked like!
•Q: What advice would you give people who have been misled into misinterpreting it? A: If we see something up there we will be the first ones to ask questions and to tell people we saw something we didn’t understand. Conspiracy theories are fun for those working on them, but a waste of valuable brain power.
NASA statement on lost items from STS-88
•During spacewalks debris, both small and large, are often thrown off the station for convenience, although sometimes tools unintentionally slip away.
•Such was the case in December 1998 when a slidewire carrier and a worksite interface were lost by the STS-88 crew while conducting an extravehicular activity for ISS.
•These objects were large enough to be tracked by the U.S. SSN [space surveil-lance network] and were cataloged (U.S. satellite numbers 25564 and 25565).
•Three other objects were also released by STS-88 spacewalkers, one inadvertently (an insulation blanket) and two by design (antenna spools), although only the former was officially cataloged.
NASA stills of blanket
Identification Mission: STS088 Roll: 724 Frame: 66 Mission ID on the Film or image: STS88 Country or Geographic Name: OCEAN Features: PAN-SNGLNT [sun glint], SPACE DEBRIS
Note: the first image was taken at 20:16:41. The last image was taken at 20:18:44. A span of two minutes.
NASA’s “dropped blanket” videos
The two videos show the spacewalkers installing several thermal covers [blankets] over trunnion pins on the US Node. The thermal covers are silver reflective on one side, and flat white on the other, and are shaped somewhat like a flattened flower blossom with square-cut petals. In the videos you can see one of them drifting off, after it came loose from its tether to the wrist of one of the astronauts. It shows different profiles, as it slowly tumbles, to the TV cameras inside the crew cabin and to various cameras located in corners of the payload bay.
NASA video orbiter aft flight deck during spacewalk when blanket is dropped
You can see copilot Rick Sturckow at the left window, Nancy Currie at the right window, Sergey Krikalyov with the Hasselblad getting those detailed still images. There’s a long sequence of the slowly-tumbling thermal cover, clearly the same object previously misidentified as the ‘Black Knight’ satellite. It’s viewed through a dirty window but the shape is unmistakably the same
You can hear the inside crew speculating on whether the spacewalkers would have a chance to grab it if it floated back.
•sts88 debris handheld excerpt
•Onboard video of the Trunnion Pin Thermal Cover accidentally release during an EVA on STS-88 AKA ‘Black Knight’ ALIEN SPACESHIP
The accidental release of the trunnion pin thermal cover
The notorious still photographs that have been identified as the ‘Black Knight’ were taken from inside the cabin [one video shows the crewman while he is actually taking them], and show the same-shaped object, with the shiny reflective side facing space and thus looking pitch black. Even the sun gleams are the same. The videos should convince any observant, perceptive person that the “Black Knight” stills are just higher-resolution snapshots of the same object seen in both videos: a thin, shiny thermal cover, one of several meant to be installed during the second spacewalk. But the “one that got away”
— and soon burned up.
Dec 13, 1998 satellite observer’s log of dropped thermal cover
JAY RESPLER <JRespler@surfnj.net> said:
>This excerpt from my News email list:
>>In their earlier space walks, Ross and Newman connected electrical and data
> cables and attached antennas to the outside of Unity. The work went well,
>although two tools and a thermal cover got away from Ross and floated away —
>>rare mistakes for America’s most experienced space walker.
>2 items have showed up. So what is the third and has it been
It’s right there in your news story – a thermal cover. I suspect that it’s
got a fairly samll radar cross section and may not be cataloged.
There were also a couple of very minor debris like the spool which held the
Russian TORU antenna in place. I suspect that that object would be very
close to the limitst of what USSPACEOM could track (based on the size of
the ODERACS radar calibration targets).
Good luck trying to view them! (OBJ Seesat comment)
> Satellite Catalog Action Report
>The following objects have been reported as cataloged:
>Designator CatNo Common Name Source LaunchDate
>———— —– ————— —— ———-
>1990-111D 25563 SL-8 DEB CIS
>1998-069D 25564 STS 88 DEB (WIRE CARRIER US 1998/12/04
>1998-069E 25565 STS 88 DEB (SOCKET) US 1998/12/04
This makes sense. Notice that no USSPACEOM catalog numbers were saved for
the upcoming SAC-A and Mightysat minisats. However the International IDs
have been saved for them (B and C). It’s interesting to speculate whether
or not the international designations would get changed if there was a
technical problem which precludes the deployment of the two satellites.
I don’t expect the U.S. Node to get a separate designation since it was
never flying on its own, however there have been inconsistencies in the
past in this regard.
If this current numbering scheme keeps up each of the Russian launched
components (Service Module, Docking Module, etc.) would have separate
desginations, however the shuttle launched components shouldn’t. Debris
from spacewalks while the shuttle’s docked will be given international
designations based on the shuttle.
I suspect debris generated by the space station during spacewalks will get
international designations based on Babylon 1 (1998 67xx) but also that
there will be inconsistencies there too.
As far as country codes are concerned I am rather amused that FGB has a
U.S. designation. The U.S. provided the funding, so I supopse it’s the
equivalent of a U.S.-built satellite for Mexico launching on an European
rocket in terms of designation.
It’s anbody’s guess as to which country will be identitified as the debris
from spacewalks once space station’s occupied. (hmm, did the Russian or
U.S. spacewalker drop that wrench overboard? And was that a U.S. or
Russian built wrench?)
Philip Chien, KC4YER
world (in)famous writer, science fiction fan, ham radio operator,
all-around nice guy, etc.
BUT – the blanket’s ghost lives ON
•Weird photos were seen and adopted by UFO buffs
•Exactly WHO imaginatively connected the pictures to the old ‘Black Knight’ myth isn’t yet known
•Reorganization of NASA on-line archives later led to rumors of censorship and coverup
•UFO sites refuse to acknowledge videos showing the object drifting away while crew discusses it.
•The rest, as they say, is history – or maybe hysteria?
The Black Knight Satellite audio podcast