It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.

Please white-list or disable in your ad-blocking tool.

Thank you.


Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.


"ROCKET SPOTTING" -- draft section for my home page

page: 1

log in


posted on Aug, 28 2018 @ 07:17 AM
For comments and suggestions, here's a draft of a major report I'm preparing:


These presentations describe the amazing spectacles of wide-area rocket launches seen around the world since the earliest years of the Space Age, usually by accident by startled and often frightened witnesses, but recently more and more often by intentional amateur observers with sophisticated equipment. Close-up views from the space launch sites like Cape Canaveral and Baykonur have long been tourist attractions but these more distant wide-area sightings – usually at dawn and dusk twilight – have rarely been recognized for any connection to human spaceflight. Usually they are interpreted and reported as mysterious anomalies such as UFOs, wormholes to alien worlds, divine or demonic visions, secret and malign atmospheric experiments in weather control, secret weapons, among other imaginary mythological manifestations.

These reports are intended to first of all identify some of the most famous of the modern myths of “unexplainable phenomena”, and also to describe the antidote capabilities of the internet to investigate the nature of future apparitions of this type. On-line resources allow determination of illumination conditions, of positions of satellites, of cloud cover, of starfields for a given locale and time AND recognition of unknown starfield backgrounds, of maps of almost every street on most of the planet along with street-view imagery of many of them that often allows matching structures to provide precise determination of location and orientation of posted imagery, of searches for earlier appearances of given imagery, along with reasonably good foreign language translation. In addition, ‘rocket science’ allows extraction of significant information from an image that at first looks like little more than an amorphous blob – the ascent path is often characterized by a swelling of the plume at about 80-100 km altitude, the altitude of Earth’s shadow can be found with trigonometry and so changes in illumination can be translated into vehicle trajectory, and in-space rocket plumes can serve as meter sticks since the raw velocity of the plume growth is a function of a small range of rocket engine efficiencies [V = Isp x g] so the physical scale can be calculated by measuring the burn duration.

Clearly these reports are of primary interest to spaceflight professionals and enthusiasts, but the intended audience is much wider. Military historians will find much of interest regarding highly classified missile and space projects of the past that ‘leaked’ as ‘UFOs’. UFO investigators will find a great deal of sobering insights into calibration of the level of accuracy [or INaccuracy] of witness reports of similar apparitions. Professional journalists will see lessons on how to, and how NOT to, report such claims accurately and honestly and usefully. Educators will discover the shocking level of widespread public misinformation and misconceptions of fundamental features of missile and space flight, even after two thirds of a century of the ‘Space Age’, that calls for [and justifies spending for] more energetic outreach programs. Spaceflight enthusiasts will recognize the daunting cultural challenge of familiarizing more people around the world with the striking visual features that are genuine consequences of specific flight paths of space vehicles and missiles.

The reports also intend to convey the pure joy of original research into popular ‘mysteries’, the thrill of the hunt, the delicious satisfaction of finding and assessing clues, the graphic illustration of the practical benefit of ‘rocket science’ to everyday life, and the satisfaction of providing so many baffled and anxious experiencers with a plausible explanation of why they WEREN’T crazy when they saw their sky spectacles. In addition, credit should be paid to the incident recorders and private researchers who documented, preserved, and disseminated these reports in the faith that someday people would find the information useful, and make sense of it.

These reports are also mostly in ‘final draft’ form with additional evidence and exposition yet to be added, often based on critical review comments and suggestions from readers. Perhaps a centralized discussion forum on this topic could be sponsored to gather similar work already done by many writers on such sightings.


Analysis of thousands of contemporary eyewitness reports shows that the key misunderstanding that prevents many witnesses from recognizing what they are seeing is a missile or rocket is the incorrect belief that rockets go ‘up’ into space, where they float, free of gravity. The reality – that after quickly rising above the atmosphere the path of a rocket bends over towards near-horizontal – made a shocking impression on even most of the team that launched the first satellite in 1957, as described here:

Sputnik’s blastoff: the terrifying view from the launch site

Sputnik Launch Witnesses Feared Failure

In addition, viewing the path from off to the side, at a great distance ‘down range’, looks entirely different from the typical newsreel images of vertical ascent from near the launch site, which is usually the only viewing angle most people are ever exposed to.


posted on Aug, 28 2018 @ 07:19 AM

Diving right into the theme, there are two recent events which profoundly illustrate the nature of the cultural phenomenon.
First, here are two reports on the November 7, 2015, mass freak-out in California and neighboring states caused by a routine test launch of a Trident missile from a submarine west of San Diego. The first report goes deeply into the technical solution, and it presents some previous launches with similar effects in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans [particularly in the Canary Islands]. The second addresses the characteristics of public misconceptions about that particular event.

The second report goes into a deep analysis of a launch from the main Russian spaceport in Baykonur, Kazakhstan, on December 15, 2015, as it was observed from the ground, from an airliner, and most unusually, from aboard the International Space Station. The different points of view allow the conceptualization of a three-dimensional model of the ‘space plume’ which validates the explanation behind it.
Soyuz TMA-19M Launch & Ascent Observations
It’s interesting to point out that at least two other Russian rocket launches have been accidentally observed from the viewing deck [the ‘cupola’] of the ISS, in 2013 and 2014, as described in these two reports:
Oct 10, 2013
text narrative
June 15, 2014
Other space-based observations, such as this one May 5, 1981 report from a Soviet space station, hint at still-unacknowledged missile/space activities of ‘nth country’ nations – underscoring the genuine value of paying attention to such reports.
Another unique space-based observation of a launch was recently recorded by alert operators of a private space surveillance network who realized that their next-in-line launch [from Russia] would be in view of one of their already-deployed satellites. Careful programming of an observation sequence based on the known launch time produced this amazing sequence on July 14, 2017:
Rarely, Russian satellite launchers carry backwards-facing video cameras.
April 3, 2014 from Kourou
Aug 2017 from Vostochniy
For comparison, here’s a Lockheed-Martin launch:

These are some recently-completed reports of mine:

Here’s context to this still-baffling Chinese event:

Another still-ambiguous sighting:

July 2, 2017 - Failure of Chinese Long-March-5 big booster observed from Luzon


posted on Aug, 28 2018 @ 02:01 PM
The particularly bizarre shapes associated with rocket plumes have a little-known history, since they would have been impossible prior to the beginnings of rocket flight above the stratosphere. When they began appearing, and began being reported, nobody seemed to know how to categorize them or where to report them. Fortunately, there were some chroniclers who were particularly interested in exactly such phenomena which didn’t seem to fit into current paradigms.
Although spectacular videos have proliferated as personal pocketcams and automobile dashcams became more widely available, the basic rocket plume apparition has been reported since the dawn of the Space Age in 1957. Because of its novelty and rarity, each apparition was generally mischaracterized as a UFO event and as such entered that literary genre.
This report presents two dozen examples from the 1960s to the present…

Such sightings have occurred all over the world, but they are not randomly distributed. Both specific launch site locations, and particular geographic features, have created regional ‘hot spots’. Just as one example, it happens that most Japanese space probes launched from their rocket sites in practically any direction will tend to criss-cross a region east of northern Argentina halfway through their first orbit of the Earth..
But it’s Russia, the nation that opened the Space Age, that has harvested the most abundant crop of space activity sightings. Because of purely geographic considerations, people in Russia saw their country’s missile/rocket activity more frequently than in other countries where rockets were usually fired out over open ocean [with few witnesses] for safety reasons.
In addition, soon after the beginning of the Space Age and at the height of the Cold War, Moscow developed and tested one particular kind of rocket that used its last stage to dive back into the atmosphere carrying a dummy nuclear weapon. Unintentionally, the rocket plumes from that extraordinary flight profile were widely observed – and misinterpreted – all across southern Russia in 1967-8 and became one of the greatest classic ‘UFO flaps’ in world history.
Overview narrative:
Detailed report:
By 1977, twenty years into the ‘Space Age’, rocket launchings from a secret base north of Moscow had become almost ‘standard’ as instigators of famous UFO events.
‘Petrozavodsk Jellyfish’ [Kosmos-955 satellite from Plesetsk], Sep 1977

In 1984, a Soviet sub-launched missile [from the White Sea] was seen from civilian airliners and from Finland [Sep 7, 1984] and and

In the same period, another geographic coincidence placed Soviet satellite boosters performing an orbit-raising burn halfway around the world from their launch site, which happened to be over the southern Andes Mountains of South America – and under particular solar illumination conditions, these sparked one of the biggest ‘UFO flaps’ in Latin American history.

Such routine Russian launches were often observed by airline pilots, who could interpreted the apparition as incorrectly as anyone else [and sometimes more, as will be explained later]. On January 28, 1994, the Progress-TM21 supply drone launch to a Russian space station was seen over Kazakhstan and described by respected UFO researcher Richard Hall [in his book ‘The UFO Evidence”] as a “luminous UFO maneuvered erratically near airliner” [ cited], when the object actually flew a straight course hundreds of kilometers away from the pilot. The actual rocket event is described here:

In those years, other space plume events were being observed and correctly interpreted by amateur astronomers, as described here: July 2002 [ASTRONOMY magazine] – ‘Close encounters’ with satellites
And here : 1988, ‘Sky & Telescope”

The same geographic and cultural features that had made the USSR a fertile breeding ground for rocket plume pseud-UFOs also applied to China.
China ‘sky spirals’ – help needed!
2010 – Did missile test spark China UFO reports?
2000 – Chinese space activities spark UO reports and

Sometimes Chinese observers were spooked by missile tests in Russia:
Soviet ‘Space War Games’ Spark UFO panics across eastern Asia [june 18, 1982]

Sometimes Chinese launches spooked observers in other countries:
although the man who first recorded that rocket fuel dump still insists it was an alien craft:


posted on Aug, 28 2018 @ 02:04 PM

Hit-or-miss engenderment of UFO reports from missile/space activity continued around the world but the advent of widespread personal video recorders and the inauguration of new types of missile/space activity together provided the fertile ground for a quantum leap in pseudo-UFO fever in 2009-2010, and even more precisely, on Dec 9 & 10, 2009.
The spectacular ‘Norway spiral’ on December 9, 2009, the day before President Barack Obama arrived in Oslo to receive his Nobel Peace Prize, was captured on a dozen videocameras [and soon immortalized in more CGI fake versions]. It remains the touchstone of ‘unexplainableness’ in pop culture to this day even though the hard evidence it was a Russian military missile test is incontrovertible – see
The very next day, another spectacular sky spiral – much briefer than the Norway event but just as widely publicized – startled ground witnesses in in southern Russia and adjacent Central Asian nations such as Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. It turned out to be the first of half a dozen evening-twilight test flights of a new defense-evading nuclear warhead, launched from Russia’s old test range of Kapustin Yar on the lower Volga into the Soviet-era anti-missile test range at Sary Shagan in Kazakhstan. The tests were flown on decommissioned Topol missile flying a unique high-lobbed and then sharply-turned-down trajectory, creating unusual visual phenomena even for ‘space plumes’.
For reference purposes, I have dubbed these special flights the “KYSS-T” series. They were tersely announced officially in Moscow but any connection to the UFO panics they later ignited was not discussed. See
While the internet was still ringing with wild speculations about the nature of these two events in late 2009, a third ‘sky spiral’ appeared over southeastern Australia before dawn on June 4, 2010. It turned out to be a post-launch surplus fuel dump from a slowly spinning upper stage of the very first orbital launch of the SpaceX ‘Falcon-9’ space booster. But once again, to the Internet audience of enthusiasts, it was absolutely inexplicable in prosaic terms.

Enthusiasts mobilized to discover more such ‘spiral UFOs’, and quickly found a then-recent case from 2006 over Tomsk, Siberia [a satellite launch]. See
… and soon were treated to a new one on Dec 23, 2011, when in a unique spaceflight accident a satellite rocket’s upper stage exploded halfway into orbit. Its ascent and was observed from an airliner, and the explosion was spotted from the ground [including one dashcam view that caught the moment of the explosion from a street in Novosibirsk that was later found on Google streetview and the exact azimuth to the explosion measured] as its expanding fuel cloud descended into Earth’s shadow and then, moments later, as the rocket fragments entered the atmosphere and burned up as fireball meteors. One of the pieces hit a house on ‘Cosmonaut Street’ near Tyumen in Siberia. The correlation of the sightings [and the recovered debris] proved its earthborn nature, but on the internet it was still another UFO.

By 2018 the Russian launches were finally generally recognized for what they were [including one spectacular launch during World Cup final games], although a tour of and still showed many sites promoting the object as an alien visitor to an eager audience.


posted on Aug, 28 2018 @ 02:07 PM

In recent years a new player in space launches has appeared, the SpaceX company and its Falcon-9 launch vehicle. As the flight rate increased, more and more ’space clouds’ were being generated by the upper stage, including thrust plumes and fuel dumps, sometimes under the unique twilight conditions that make them visible from the ground. Because SpaceX is a private corporation, the actual timing and physical nature of such events was rarely discussed either in advance or even afterwards, so it became an ‘attractive mystery’ for analysis by ground observers.

The value of such analysis was demonstrated on January 8, 2018 when a mysterious military mission, carrying a payload known only as ‘Zuma’, was conducted, and the results of the launch appeared to indicate a failure – or perhaps a camouflaged success. Unexpectedly for SpaceX and its customer, some features of the second stage operation were serendipitously observed from the ground and from an airliner over Sudan in Africa. Those observations – and their potential implications – are discussed here:
Fortunately, a number of other second stage plume events had been noticed, before and after the Zuma event, for comparison:
Australia fuel vent spiral June 4, 2010
Indian Ocean fuel dump sphere Sep 29, 2013
Persian Gulf deorbit burn Feb 19, 2017
South African sighting of circularization burn Dec 22, 2017
[and major California witness freakout from multiple flying units]

Norway deorbit burn Feb 19, 2018
Post-GTO insertion fuel dump from Australia May 10, 2018


Now that the plume-generation procedures have been approximately displayed by such events, a more thorough search of all other SpaceX launches with determination of ground twilight zones that might have afforded visibility [weather permitting] ought to be made, followed by a search of both amateur astronomy websites and UFO blogs for potential reports.
On Feb 06, 2018, SpaceX launched its first Falcon-Heavy superbooster on a spectacularly successful debut. Due to a liftoff delay of several hours, the planned second firing of the upper stage for one minute to achieve a trans-Mars trajectory occurred south of California at local twilight. This created accidental viewing opportunities across California, Arizona, as far east as the Texas panhandle, and in northwestern Mexico. Those sightings, and on-board camera views of the second stage engine, provided enormously important new insights into the engine functions, as described here:


posted on Dec, 15 2018 @ 10:53 PM
New reports now posted…..

Observations of the SpaceX launch on October 8, 2018:

Observations of the SpaceX deorbit burn on October 8, 2018:

Public misinterpretations of the SpaceX launch on October 8, 2018:

Observations of the Soyuz launch on December 3, 2018:

top topics

log in