Lucky-7 TLE matching using GPS data

SkyFox Labs is having some trouble identifying the TLE corresponding to their Lucky-7 cubesat. The satellite was launched on July 5 in launch 2019-038 and a good match among the TLEs assigned to that launch has not being found yet. Over on Twitter, Cees Bassa has analyzed some SatNOGS observations and he says that NORAD ID 44406 seems the best match. However, this TLE has already been identified by Spire as belonging to one of their LEMUR satellites.

Fortunately, Lucky-7 has an on-board GPS receiver, and the team has been collecting position data recently. This data can be used to match a TLE to the orbit of the satellite, and indeed is much more accurate than the Doppler curve, which is the usual method for TLE identification.

Jaroslav Laifr, from the Lucky-7 team, has sent me the data they have collected, so that I can study it to find a matching TLE. The study is pretty simple to do with Skyfield. I have obtained the most recent TLEs for launch 2019-038 from Space-Track and computed the RMS error between each of the TLEs and the GPS measurements. The results can be seen in this Jupyter notebook.

The best match is NORAD ID 44406, with an RMS error of 8.7km. The second best match is NORAD ID 44404 (which is what SatNOGS has been using to track Lucky-7), with an RMS error of 51.3km. Most other objects have an error larger than 100km.

Therefore, my conclusion is clear. It is very likely that Spire misidentified NORAD ID 44406 as belonging to LEMUR 2 DUSTINTHEWIND early after the launch, when the different objects hadn’t drifted apart much. NORAD ID 44406 is a good match for Lucky-7. It will be interesting to see what Spire says in view of this data.

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