U.S. President Trump tweets imagery of recent Iranian Safir launch failure.


Amateur satellite watchers are having a field day analyzing a tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump.

That tweet included an image of recent Iranian Safir launch failure – apparently taken by a secret U.S. spy satellite – although there are suggestions the photo might be taken by a drone.

Very interesting image

“It’s not often that I retweet the US president, but he tweeted this image of the Iranian Safir launch failure. The image is very interesting as evidence suggests that it was taken by a US spy satellite on August 29th, 2019,” reports Cees Bassa, an astronomer/satellite watcher working at ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy.

The Trump tweet explained:

“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site.”

Credit: Cees Bassa

El Khomeini Spaceport

In a deep dive of the Trump tweeted photo, Bassa’s analysis includes some interesting revelations:

“The image shows the aftermath of an accident with an Iranian Safir rocket at the El Khomeini Spaceport. From the features of the launch pad, I find that the viewing directions of the camera match that of USA 224, a classified spy satellite,” Bassa explains.

“There are 4 towers around the launch pad. Google Earth shows that the North and South towers are aligned along 192 deg azimuth. The camera azimuth is a further ~4 degrees West. From the elliptical shape of the circular launch pad, the elevation of the camera is around 46 degrees,” Bassa adds. “This is the path USA 224 followed across the sky from El Khomeini Spaceport on August 29, 2019. At 09:44:20, it passed very close to azimuth 196 deg and elevation 46 deg, matching the camera position. At that time, it was at a distance of 382 kilometers [237 miles].”

Google Earth shows that the launch pad is about 60 meters in diameter, while the launch pad is about 600 pixels wide in the picture. That suggests a resolution of at least 10 centimeters per pixel, as the original image could have had a higher resolution.
Credit: Cees Bassa


Sharp shooting

“Since USA 224 is a classified satellite, orbital elements are not published by (CSpOC) [the Combined Space Operations Center CSpOC]. Fortunately, amateur satellite observers regularly track it across the sky, allowing its orbit to be determined. At the time of the image, the USA 224 orbit was last determined 2.4 days before,” Bassa notes.

“It is not often that images from US Keyhole spy satellites are published. These satellites have 2.4m mirrors (as large as that of the Hubble telescope),” Bassa explains, “and are believed to produce the sharpest images of the Earth’s surface. The actual resolution of the images is kept secret.”

Adds satellite skywatcher, Marco Langbroek, also of the Netherlands:

“Shadow analysis by Christiaan Treibert suggests 9:00-10:00 UT (29 Aug). As first suggested by Michael Thompson, USA 224, a KH-11 Advanced CRYSTAL, made a pass over the launch site at that time (9:44 UT). The view angle fits post-culmination positions for this sat,” he tweets.

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