I realize there is a whole lot of stuff in low earth orbit, but didn't imagine that it would be so visible. Here are the two brighter objects that passed by during the deployment of Jason-3 by SpaceX. I've nicknamed them "Elvis" and "David Bowie", but are they satellites - or just nearby debris associated with the spacecraft? In the original SpaceX webcast you can see that Elvis seems to be rotating at about 1.8 revs per second, which might help in the identification.

EDIT: I've removed the phrase "educated guess" from the question.

Note the mission time in the upper right corner to you can refer back to the video.

"Elvis:" the faint spot from left to right below Jason-3 (click to enlarge) SpaceX_Jason-3_deploy_GIF A

"David Bowie:" (click to enlarge) SpaceX_Jason-3_deploy_GIF B

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    $\begingroup$ Elvis sure looks like a cubesat deployed by the falcon. David Bowie looks like a satellite (or debris piece) passing. I will see if I can come up with anything more specific. $\endgroup$ Jan 18, 2016 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ Link to relevant part of the video: youtu.be/vkz_lclGXNg?t=4741 $\endgroup$ Jan 18, 2016 at 13:57

1 Answer 1


I could not find any reference to a secondary payload on that Falcon. http://www.n2yo.com/satellites/?c=latest-launches

I therefore assume that because of its low relative speed, Elvis is a piece of the satellite. For example, there might be equipment on the sattelite that is sensitive to the rocket exhaust, so it is covered while the engines are still firing. Once the engines shut down, they jettison the cover.

Since David Bowie seems to be moving relative to the apparent background (although this is not 100% clear from the video) I would assume that it is a passing object. From the fact that it takes a while to pass the spacecraft, I would guess that it is a larger satellite passing in considerable distance.


As you can see in the screenshot below, the sky south east of Madagascar was quite crowded at that time. My money would be on Iridium 11 being David Bowie, because it has a large radio dish.

Jason 3 is not pictured, but the position on the map would be almost precisely where Saudisat (1C) is pictured. However, Saudisat passed far underneath Jason, so if it was in the frame, the earth would also be in the frame.

Looking through the instruments of Jason-3, Elvis may be a cover for the Carmen-3 experiment. It fits the general shape, and since it is a sensitive electromagnetic device, it may need protection while crossing the inner Van-Allen-Belt. https://jason-3.cnes.fr/en/JASON3/carmen3.htm

Approximate Location of David Bowie

  • $\begingroup$ ...or (as might have been suggested earlier) just small pieces of debris closer to the camera. I guess without a specific candidate we can't really say either is a satellite or not. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 18, 2016 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh, it may be, but if it was small and close, it would have to have very low relative speed. Most objects on orbit have very high relative speed, so it is most likely large and far. $\endgroup$ Jan 18, 2016 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ if it was associated with the spacecraft it could have low relative velocity. Thanks, "would assume" and "would guess" are nice but not enough. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 18, 2016 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ Excuse me, but you asked for an educated guess, and that is what you got. $\endgroup$ Jan 18, 2016 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ in-the-sky.org/… $\endgroup$ Jan 18, 2016 at 15:14

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