The Anomalist

Archive > Features

by Anthony Eccles

On Thursday 29th June The Guardian newspaper presented a feature on sun storm satellites.(1) The European Space Agency is about to launch Cluster, a set of four satellites that are designed to orbit the sun in a tight formation. In 1996, the test flight launcher 'Ariane V,' which carried the first Cluster payload, blew up. In that same year a Canadian newspaper reports that observers of the Perseid meteor shower were surprised to see a triangular formation of three lights above them in the sky. For the first time people were becoming aware that satellites travelling in formation were in existence.

The case that follows has, over recent months, brought to light a number of important points to my attention. Thanks to Strange Daze, I have been able to update this investigative article into artificial satellite systems which continues to be responsible for a large number of UFO sightings. Two things comes to light from this case; firstly, that many ufologists fail to identify reported UFO sightings probably due to deep cultural belief systems, and secondly, that the security of the United States is continuously being threatened by the technological development of other countries. I shall explain more about the latter point later on, but first of all I would like to start at the beginning and explain how I have come to the above conclusions.

During October of 1999, a UFO case had come to my attention from the Thingwall area of Wirral on Merseyside. A fifty five year old sales engineer called John was walking his dog in the fields on the Tuesday night of the 5th of October. John and his dog were located to the north of Prenton Brook, and to the east of far Lower Thingwall Lane. It was ten o'clock at night and the sky was slightly covered with cloud, it was not raining and there was no wind. In fact, John could see a clear night sky. A slow moving point of light had caught his attention, and it appeared to pass through the constellation of Cassiopeia. The man believed that what he was looking at was a satellite. However, another detail had caught his eye, he noticed a second light and then a third appearing together to form a triangular formation, with one light being the lead light and the others forming a base line, an isosceles triangle formation. All three lights were moving together simultaneously. Satellites? Moving in formation? His initial thought was that he was observing three individual objects and not three lights that were fixed onto a single solid body. They appeared to move at the correct speed for a satellite and at the correct height. The lights disappeared from view "as they entered the Earth's shadow". Normally, most investigators, like myself, would probably connect the sighting of triangular lights with suspect prototype military aircraft. However, because the witness had submitted a number of important observational details on his sighting form, I was able to focus the investigation on astronomical phenomena.

My first point of call was my computer skymap and reference books of the Merseyside night skies, which are published by the Liverpool Astronomical Society. With this in hand I was able to locate Cassiopeia. From John's description of the lights the witness had observed them travelling from the west to the east. I had never heard of satellites travelling in formation before so my next move was to contact the British Astronomical Association - Artificial Satellite Section, and also to look on the Internet for a satellite tracking site called Heavens-Above.Com, which is based in Germany. From this website I was able to pinpoint a satellite called Cosmos 1943 rocket which was close to the estimated object altitude and location. It is a single object which passes at 22:03:05 at a magnitude of 3.9 and first appears in the south west. This object fails to account for the lights witnessed, firstly because it produces a singular light in the sky, secondly because it appears below Cassiopeia and not through it, and finally because it moves in the opposite direction, from the south west to the north east.

Not the right solution, I know, but I was certain I was on the right track. Soon after, on the 25th October 1999, I received an email from the British Astrronomical Association with an explanation that it could well be NOSS. The email carried with it the following information:

"A couple of summers ago, meteor observers certainly became familiar with the 'NOSS Trio' of satellites, which were in an equilateral pattern. Onboard sensors apparently allowed researchers to measure precise distances between these, and how they were affected by gravitational pertubations over time. The NOSS satellites were also comparatively faint - visual mag. +3 or thereabouts."

Searching carefully on the Internet I discovered a piece that had been written by CNI News, it was continuing a story that had appeared on the 1st September 1996 in the Toronto Star newspaper regarding the annual Perseid meteor shower. During the nights of the 8th, 9th and 10th of August of that year a set of three "unblinking" lights in triangular formation had "cruised across the star fields." These lights had never been seen before and were described as being fainter than the constellation of Ursa Major. The article goes on to say that Ted Molczan, a satellite orbit expert based in Toronto had figured out what the three lights were...they were NOSS, and there was not just one set but there were actually three sets of satellites travelling in formation. They were code named Parcae, after the three daughters of Zeus, and were a part of the US Navy's spaceborne electronic intelligence system (ELINT). NOSS was the name given to these satellites by non military satellite specialists and stood for Naval Ocean Surveillance System. Until 1996, the US Government had denied all knowledge of these satellites ever existing.

Each group of satellites, apparently, fly at an altitude of 1100km and in formation approximately 100km across. The satellites are meant to track the position, speed, and direction of all military ships at sea. This is done by detecting communication, navigation and weapons control signals that are emitted almost continuously by naval ships. Three satellites can track these ships more accurately than a singular satellite could by measuring the time difference of signal receipt. According to this CNI News article three sets of satellites were launched in 1990, 1991 and 1996. Each satellite measures approximately three meters in length, larger than the earlier versions of this system.(2)

This sounded fascinating to me because it indicated that any ship belonging to any nationality could be identified and located anywhere in the world. It has some interesting implications with the use of satellite technology. Furthermore I was surprised that I had not come across these in the UFO literature as an explanation for some UFO reports. I conducted a further search and found a number of question and answer pages from satellite enthusiasts. They inquire as to whether these satellites can remain in tight formation and ask how they can maneuver in orbit. These satellites move with a leading satellite first and the remaining two following behind, they are not capable of remaining in a tight formation but will appear in a triangular formation as well as a formation of lights travelling in a straight line. This actually ties in with a couple of other UFO cases that I have which fit just that description. One of the answers given by a satellite observer stated the following;

"The NOSS constellations consist of three visible satellites, each of which moves in a roughly geocentric orbit. The shape of the triangle formed cannot be maintained because the orbits must intersect one another when viewed from Earthís center. Thus from time to time the satellites will even appear to be in a straight line from that point of view. All other times they form some sort of triangle, but its shape must vary continuously. I tried viewing them from above in simulation in Starry Night. It is possible to do so, but it is very difficult."(3)

Out of curiosity I wanted to know a bit more and fortunately found a few pages from FAS, Space Policy Agency: Military Space Programs. From here were pages which described White Cloud (NOSS). Its opening sentence begins:

"The White Cloud Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) performed wide area ocean surveillance, primarily for the Navy White Cloud which is used to determine the location of radio and radars transmissions using triangulation. The identity of naval units can be deduced by analysis of the operating frequencies and transmission patterns of the emitters.

Each NOSS launch placed a cluster of one primary satellite and three smaller sub-satellites (that trail along at distances of several hundred kilometers) into low polar orbit. This satellite array can determine the location of radio and radars transmitters, using triangulation, and the identity of naval units, by analysis of the operating frequencies and transmission patterns.

NOSS used the ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) technique called "time difference of arrival", TDOA, rather than true interferometry. Conceptually, TDOA and interferometry are very similar, though distinct, techniques. They may also use the frequency-domain version of TDOA, FDOA, which exploits Doppler shifts somewhat in the way the COSPAS/SARSATs do."

The initial phase of Operation White Cloud was reported to be in operation from 1976 right through to 1987 when 9 satellites were sent into orbit. This phase used one main and three sub-satellites and used Atlas F rockets to project them into orbit. It is not explained how these satellites remained in formation flight, it is suggested that extremely long wires held them together but that these would have had to have been several hundreds of kilometers long! From 1983 to 1987 a total of five groups of modernized SSU-1A satellites with upgraded stabilization and data transmission systems were launched to replace failed satellites. By 1990, these satellites were launched using only three bodies. A number of infrared sensors were incorporated into these, and these had been manufactured by a company called Martin Marietta. By 1996 these satellites were using a stronger and more reliable Titan 4#17 rockets.(4) (NOSS satellites are really known collectively as Space-Based Wide Area Surveillance System - a joint US Navy and Air Force program.)

There is a paper given by a Russian military advisor called Major A. Andronov entitled "The U.S. Navy's 'White Cloud' Spaceborne ELINT System." This gives an excellent explanation as to why three satellites are used. The first has a wide observation swath, but by itself cannot determine the co-ordinates of radio emitters. The second satellite, with the first, gets a fix on the shipborne emitters, the position of the ship is obtained, but with some ambiguity. The third body gets the fix of the emittersí signals, enables their co-ordinates to be determined precisely and then transmits the information to Navy ships for weapons employment. You can therefore take out an enemy surface craft long before it appears on Radar.(5) The targeted information is not only relayed to US Navy ships but also to land stations such as Blossom Point in Maryland, Winter Harbor in Maine, Edsel in Scotland, and smaller stations in the Pacific such as Guam and Adak ,(6) which were receiver stations before they were closed down.(7)

Major Andronov states that a satellite group is able to receive signals from a zone with a radius of about 3500km on the surface of the Earth, and under clear conditions can monitor the same object 108 minutes later. A system of four satellite groups enables any region at a latitude of 40 to 60 degrees to be monitored more than 30 times a day. This spaced based ELINT system is one of the basic means for over-the-horizon targeting for warships equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles. Today, these information receiver systems are employed by nuclear submarines.(8)

Recently, I came across a feature on page 34 of UFO Magazine regarding one man's observation of such satellites.(9) At the close of his writing he asks "Do satellites orbit in symmetrical formation, perhaps?" This is followed by a very small entry at the bottom of the page which states that "James Oberg claims that three top secret DoD satellites are orbiting the Earth in triangular formation". There did not appear to be any research done by the magazine to support or correct this statement, in fact nothing further had been reported since then. A colleague of mine, Bill Bimson, had contacted UFO Magazine with the contents of the article you are reading now. Their reply was that NOSS satellites could not account for the witness's initial sighting back in 1975, and according to my own notes NOSS was first launched in 1976. Could this be right? I began to scour the Internet for more information.

What I then discovered answered my question. Was it possible that formation satellites could have been launched, tried and tested at an earlier date. According to a reliable source the first launch of ELINT Naval reconnaissance satellites code named Parcae took place at Vandenberg Launch Site(10) 14 December 1971 and were launched using an LT Thor Agena D rocket.(11) What I realized was that there were different ELINT systems that were being used by the US Air Force and US Navy. Remember that NOSS is only a civilian term for the satellites, their name, type, and operational function will vary so there will be a number of dates for their initial launches. To further confuse interested parties rocket launches designated as NOSS were a cover for other military satellites.

Over the years through the 1980s and 90s the satellites were launched on powerful rockets from the Atlas F, Atlas H and the Titan 4. These were designed to carry a payload of several satellites which would be individually deployed in Low Earth Orbit (using Altitude Control Electronics or ACE), this would not only be cheaper but also a more effective way of deploying satellites. However, there do appear to be a number of discrepancies, normally the rocket being used as a launcher would determine the type of satellite being sent up. If we look at the weight being carried by the launchers today we know that they can carry a payload of 8 tonnes in orbit, but the SB-Wass (NOSS) satellites weigh a total of 1.5 tonnes, what we do not know is what other type of equipment is contained within the rocket payload. The extra mass appears to be consistent with the presence of advanced scanning infra-red sensor on the sub-satellites.(12) Another example of existing misinformation involves the Titan 2 and Titan 4 booster rockets that were used in 1988, 1989 and 1992 which had a payload similar to NOSS but were in fact, as stated previously, singular spacecraft. These were deployed at a higher orbit around the Earth to function for Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) instead of Electronic Intelligence (ELINT).

For the Twenty First century satellites will be of a smaller construction, produced economically and will encompass tasks such as space based radar that the present Discoverer II program (joint US Air Force, DARPA and NRO technology) is tasked to do will cost an estimated $60 million. Discoverer IIís goal will be to launch two research and development satellites which will be capable of detecting and tracking targets on the Earthís surface! (Did you know that the NAVSPASUR surveillance system - surveillance of space - uses a Doppler shift to detect objects as small as 10cm in diameter at orbital heights of up to 15,000 nautical miles and accurately keep track of them?) They will produce high-resolution and imagery and collect high-resolution, digital terrain mapping data. It will be able to do this day or night and in all weather. But why the development of multiple formation satellite systems?

Since the end of the Cold War the United States has had to refocus its military planning and strategy. Second and Third World countries have quickly increased their technological development. The conflict in the Gulf War had demonstrated the superior reconnaissance ability of surveillance satellites and the US military has depended upon it. The US Air Force believed that space based programs will make ground based and air based radars redundant. To do this there has to be found a cheaper way of producing a new security. In the Draft Roles and Missions Report of the Joints Chief of Staff it notes that;

"The newest national space satellite system will consolidate the missions, facilities and infrastructure of two existing satellites. This will facilitate the closure of six ground stations and consolidate operations at one site, eliminating significant facility expenses."

An important threat is the vulnerability of Low Earth Orbit satellites to anti satellite attack, or ATAS, Satellites(13) can be seen during clear nights but also on rare occasions affordable telescopes can detect faint objects in the daytime sky! (Accompanied by rare atmospheric effects e.g. mirages, we might even have satellites creating daylight UFOs.) It is also relatively easy to track satellites, amateur astronomers have demonstrated this already. Second and Third World countries hoping to develop techniques of countering satellite surveillance only have to find a means of being able to identify, track and either mask ground based targets (such as mobile missile launchers) or disable the satellite itself. It is a misconception that satellites can operate today in a totally covert manner. The technology needed to track and counter/disable is available and inexpensive. There is easy access to a worldwide network of amateur satellite observers, complete with a skymap and a PC anyone can plot and predict the movement of satellites. To detect and track means that the hardware has to be available, for a technology that is being constantly produced it is easily available if a nation can afford the cost. Most Third World nations can, e.g. India.

A wonderful example is this of a Lacrosse I surveillance satellite over Tehran being targeted for the 16 March 1992 and again on the 22 March 1992. With the knowledge of the satelliteís trajectory, elevation, and height it would have been possible for Iran to fire a missile to knock out the satellite. Such anti satellite measures are a growing security threat to the US and there is a need for projects to involve formations of satellites so as to prevent any attack on the satellites from rendering their work useless. Another added problem here is that there is a need for a rapid satellite replacement, so that surveillance and intelligence gathering can continue, of which the US has none employed.

My interest in the field of UFOs entails the possible identification of satellites as an origin of the sighting. With this case, I feel that I have done so. I am now aware that certain satellites do travel in formation and they also create different shapes of lights. We have NOSS travelling in threes and also the Lacrosse satellites travelling in twos. For me in Merseyside it also means solving a number of other cases which have been previously labeled as insufficient data (IFO-ID). However, what I became bothered by was the fact that these satellites had been observed by amateur astronomers in 1996 yet no one in ufology had picked this up! I was unable to locate any of this from the available UFO literature!

This was very unusual as it clearly provides a solution for a number of sightings. I realized that few so called 'ufologists' actually like to hear of solutions, in fact, I know that there are some who enjoy the mere mystery of the subject but refuse to pay attention to the fact that unsolved cases only represent approximately 1 in 10 of reported sightings. We know that from the equipment on board these surveillance satellites, and their appearance, that they will emit a bright white color with a blue tinge, and may be accompanied with smaller lights about their body, the light may also appear to flicker possibly due to the reflector radar antenna as they turn in orbit. The formation of lights will also vary from triangular, to a straight line to even appear to intercept one another and then disappear. This description is not at all definitive but reflects what satellite observers have reported seeing.

The first time I had produced this article I actually thought I was going to receive mail from readers telling me that this was nothing new, how wrong I was! I received confirmation of this from someone who contacted the British UFO Research Association who actually told me that the NOSS satellites actually describe what he had seen in the night sky a few years ago. I wonder how many reported observations from the British public have been interpreted by ufologists as the famed Flying Triangle? I also wonder about NASA film footage, such as STS-80 and STS-48, of objects that appear to be intelligently controlled orbiting the Earth and is interpreted by some to be footage of extra-terrestrial craft rather than, say for argumentís sake, a military project to see if it is possible to shoot down satellites with ground based missiles. Remember that a number of UFO stories put around in the 1960s were cover stories for the CIA when top secret high altitude aircraft were being flown, such as the U2 spyplane. Space footage of apparently unusual and intelligently controlled craft could also be a cover for necessary security satellite operations.


(1) Guardian newspaper Thursday June 29 2000, p.9

(2) You can look at this page if you go to its original file name which is CNI: Triangle of Stars??



(5) Another factor to consider is the development of stealth technology and the need to detect this, particularly if possible aggressor nations were to use this technology against the US.

(6) These places are where Classic Wizard, the satellite control system, is located.



(9) UFO Magazine March/ April 2000 p.34 "The Experiencers"

(10) Vandenberg Launch Site is situated in California, USA, and was first used as a training base for soldiers who went to Korea. Then it reopened as an ICBM base in November 1956. In 1958 Vandenberg launched its first missile. The base was selected as a launch site specifically for setting satellites into polar orbit and for missile testing across the Pacific and Kwajalein Atoll.

(11) Mark Wadeís Encyclopedia Astronautica


(13) Allen Thomson Space Policy 11 (1) February 1995, pp.19-30
"Satellite Vulnerability: a post-Cold War issue?"

Anthony Eccles is an Assistant Curator of Ethnology at Liverpool Museum. In his spare time he is the Co-Founder and co-ordinator for the Merseyside Anomalies Research Association and an active member of the British UFO Research Association.

Copyright © Anthony Eccles 2001