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1997-10-21 16:11:15


No, No, NORAD: The Problem of Locating the Satellites


The North American Air Defence Command has a problem: tracking the satellites with noncompliant systems. This report is from y2k programmer Cory Hamasaki:

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Subject: Re: NORAD Two-Line Orbital Element Set Format Date: 15 Oct 97 00:40:52 GMT

I found this in

Note the YY format in the NORAD two line element set.

The two line element set is the standard definition of a satellite orbit and is used by all commercial, military, and amateur orbital simulators.

There are hundreds of millions, billions (US billions) of dollars of software distributed in the hundreds of thousands of computers that track the satellites and control the pointing of antennas for communications, voice, digital, images, etc.

NORAD, the North American Air Defence Command, based in the hollowed out Cheyenne Mountain, shown in the movie "War Games", tracks the satellites and issues the two line element sets. When these element sets fail, lots of very high tech communications will also fail.

The element sets describe the position and vector of the satellite at a specific starting time. The orbital simulator uses Newtonian mechanics to predict the future (or past) position of the satellite, this is called "Flying the bird" or "propagating the orbit".

Again, like all these Y2K issues, this ain't a big deal. Simply change the definition of the standard NORAD two card element set to include the century or implement windowing in all the hundreds of thousands of orbital simulators all over the world. Oh, no one knows where they are? Oh, there are databases of these things with the YY and DD and the fractional day as keyed fields? Too bad for the high tech world.

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