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Radar Observations of Old Centaur Rocket from 1966

Yu. Bondarenko, D. Marshalov

Latvian Journal of Physics and Technical Sciences, vol.59, no.s3, 23–29 (2022)

DOI: 10.2478/lpts-2022-0021

Keywords: Near-Earth objects radar observations spacecraft space debris

About the paper Full text


We report the results of radar observations of a near-Earth object discovered on 17 September 2020, with the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii. Initially, this object was considered an asteroid and even received the standard provisional designation 2020 SO by the Minor Planet Center. However, its Earth-like orbit and low relative velocity suggested that the object may be of artificial origin, being the Centaur rocket booster from the Surveyor 2 mission that was launched to the Moon on 20 September 1966. In the period from November 2020 to March 2021, this object approached the Earth twice within one lunar distance of the Earth. Radar observations were conducted on 30 November in bistatic mode with the 70-m Goldstone Solar System Radar DSS-14 and 32-m radio telescope RT-32 at the Svetloe Observatory, while the object was in the visibility window of two antennas at about 200 thousand km from the Earth. The main goal of the study was to determine the physical properties of this object using radar astronomy to clarify its origin.