< last ghost rocket


Phillip Clark, a noted authority on Soviet space history, kindly commented on the Soviet Sputnik allegations and the response of the US scientific community. These details clarify the US denials concerning the reentry of the rocket over North America, but still leave open the question of why Khrushchev and his Academicians were so adamant in insisting that the US had retrieved parts of the spacecraft.


Dear Mr Carpenter,

Many apologies for the delay in replying to your e-mail but I have come up with something which might be useful.

After relocating last October and having the final boxes of reports and other archive material delivered here two months ago, I am slowly getting everything unpacked and sorted. And this afternoon I found something interesting. Amongst a pile of reports which I received from the former Royal Aircraft Establishment when they were having to find a home for a pile of their material (including their paper orbital data archives!) was a Project Space Track report AFCRC-TN-58-445 "The Orbital Motion of the Earth Satellite 1957-Beta from 1 April 1958 to Its Decay 14 April 1958".

While the title might not sound too promising, Appendix 1 is "Notes on the Decay of Satellite 1957-Alpha-1". The Appendix contains two reports, as follows: 4 December 1957 "Post Analysis At Project Harvest Moon of the Last Orbital Data on Sputnik One Rocket."

Jodrell Bank data on orbits 869 hrough 872 revealed orbit mean period 88.5 minutes. This period extrapolated through orbit 879 passage at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) would provide passage time of 0014:42Z. Actual passage time at SRI was 0011:35Z, showing a mean decrease in orbit period. Calculation based on Milstone passage orbits 876 and 877 to SRI passage 879 gives a period slightly below 88.0 miutes. Observations indicate actual period at Standford slightly less than 87.9 minutes rapidly decreasing. Life expectancy calculated by Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory using Air Research and Development Command air density tables was 3.13 hours after Stanford passage, probably terminating on orbit 882. Based on the period derived from last two observed passages the predicted time of passage of the rocket body over the region of alleged sightings in Alaska, was eight minutes after the time of the sightings. This rules out evidence of reported fall in Alaska.

Further, on confirming directly with observers, the Alaskan Geophysical Institute firmly reported phenomenon observed in Alaska was 5 seconds duration and was definitely a meteor. The report from Fairbanks was finally defined as of 4 seconds duration and as the same phenomenon. At time of meteor observations in Alaska, most probable location of rocket body was far inland over Eastern Siberia in orbit which would carry it over Bering Sea west of Alaskan mainland. 10 December 1957 "Note on Map Showing last Observed Orbits of Sputnik One Rocket" [Note - I do not have a scanner so cannot include a copy of the map !]

The last orbits of the Sputnik One Rocket observed in the U.S. were observed by radars located near Bedford, Massachusetts (orbit no. 877) and Stanford, California (orbit no. 879) as shown on the attached map. Near Stanford the object was seen both by radar and visually, appearing as a bright object, on 1 December 1957, at 0011Z (11 minutes after midnight, Greenwich Mean Time). The rocket's next pass would be in an orbit further westwards, over the vicinity of Irkutsk in Siberia, the Bering Sea and then over the Pacific Ocean, parallel to the West Coast of North America, as shown by orbit no. 880 on the map.

A Russian news release has stated that the rocket began to descend into the dense layers of the atmosphere on 1 December on an orbit passing over the Irkutsk area. This agrees closely with orbit no. 880, and may be identified with it. If the rocket had still been in the air after leaving Soviet territory on this orbit, it would have passed west of the mainland of Alaska, and remained well out over the Pacific as it went southward toward Cape Horn. If it had remained aloft, its subsequent passages would have taken it even further westward over the Pacific. As the map clearly shows, 1 December sightings of bright falling objects, one in Central Alaska (0120Z) and one in southern California (0307Z) could not be associated with the rocket, but must be regarded as meteor observations. I assume that these reports, contained in a purely scientific document, would not be the kind of things which would be picked up by a casual writer and certainly not anyone in the journalist trade ! They are reproduced word-for-word from the original document which I have and although they do not refer to any Khrushchev claims, they are reporting a Rusian decay announcement which fits well with the US predictions. Unfortnately, I do not have any further information concerning the decay of the Sputnik 1 rocket. However, the various documents that I have unearthed include all of the timed observations of 1957-alpha 1, 2 and 3 and 1957-beta, so I guess that I should get the data scanned, write an approriate piece of software and then start generating the orbits as they evolved. A long-term project, I believe.

Phillip Clark


Phillip S Clark

Molniya Space Consultancy

22 Winterbourne Close Hastings E Sussex TN34 1XG U.K.

Compiler/Publisher, Worldwide Satellite Launches

Specialist in "space archeology" - the older and more obscure the more interesting it is !