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Observing the Sky Solar System Satellites Navy Research Resources

Space Sciences: The Navy & Satellites - Starshine 2

Purpose: Study and measure the effects of extreme solar ultraviolet radiation on satellite orbital decay so scientists can improve their orbital decay prediction codes.

Launch vehicle: Space Shuttle Endeavor

Satellite Deployed: December 2001

Orbit: 240-mile high, circular orbit
51.6-degree inclination
This orbit made the satellite visible as far north as Alaska and as far south as Australia.

Photo of Starshine2 in space
A view of Starshine 2 from Space Shuttle Endeavor (Courtesy of NASA).
Size: 19 inches in diameter and weighing 85 pounds.

Characteristics and Instrumentation:

  • Carried 800 mirrors that were polished by students in 1000 schools in 30 countries.
  • Carried thirty-one laser retro-reflectors on its surface to permit the International Satellite Laser Ranging Network to track it.

Made possible by: The Naval Research Laboratory, students around the world, many volunteer organizations and individuals, and NASA.

Re-entry: Starshine 2 flamed out at 10:57 UT April 26, 2002. It had originally been predicted to descend into the lower atmosphere and flame out in June, 2002; however, unusually high solar activity shortened its orbital lifetime.

What do the Starshine mirrors do?

Sunlight hitting the mirrors of the orbiting satellite flashed, making the light to apperar to wink on and off. These flashes were visible just after sunset and just before sunrise as far north as Alaska and as far south as Australia. The students who polished the mirrors helped to study orbital decay by tracking the satellite. Researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., are using the data from the Starshine project to better understand satellite orbits.