Deriving the spin rate/orientation from the quiescent spacecraft ABRIXAS using optical observations

J. Greiner, P. Friedrich, D. -E. Liebscher, G. Hasinger, P. D. Maley, B. Lübke-Ossenbeck


With the loss of the battery system of ABRIXAS shortly after launch and consequent absence of telemetry, there was urgent need to determine ABRIXAS' spin rate and orientation in order to assess the possibility of re-establishing telemetry during periods of full-Sun orbits. We, therefore, conducted optical and video observations of ABRIXAS passages with a 1-second time resolution, and later simulated the optical appearance of ABRIXAS for several passages based on a three-dimensional model of the reflectivity properties of the 2.5m x 1.8m x 1.2m size-satellite. Here we present the results of the comparison of our grid of light curve models with the observations and show first how the spin rate of ABRIXAS slowed down between June and December 1999 and second what information can be deduced on the temporal change of the orientation of the spin axis. We conclude with discussing the benefit of using ground based optical observation as a cost effective way to develop information about the orientation of a satellite when there is no telemetry.