UN Registry: Description

The United Nations Registry of Space Objects

Edited by Jonathan McDowell

Beginning in 1962, in accordance with paragraph 1 of Resolution 1721B (XVI) of the United Nations, States launching objects into orbit or beyond began to register those objects with the United Nations. This registration takes the form of two series of documents, A/AC.105/INF and ST/SG/SER.E. Each individual document contains information supplied by a single member state on one or more space objects; the information supplied varies from document to document, but usually includes a designation for the satellite, the date of launching, and some orbital information.

The present work attempts, for the first time, to organize the information present in the Registry in a coherent and uniform way for the use of scholars studying the history of space exploration. It consists of a critically edited edition of the Registry, with references back to the original documents. This edition was prepared privately and is not connected with or sanctioned by the United Nations in any way.

This list is not intended as an accurate and complete listing of space objects, but rather as an accurate reflection of the contents of the UN documents. UN member states do not always provide the correct information. Readers looking for such comprehensive lists, some of which may include information from independent (non-governmental) analysts, should consult the Royal Aircraft Establishment Table of Earth Satellites (and its successor, Phillip Clark's Worldwide Satellite Launches), the TRW Space Log, the NASA Satellite Situation Report, or electronic listings.

In general, the only external information used in the compilation of this edition of the Registry has been the additions (in square parentheses []) of names of some United States satellites, and the inclusion of objects not registered with the United Nations. This information has been taken from the COSPAR Bulletin, produced by the international organization COSPAR (Committee on Space Research), thus ensuring that the information provided all comes from official international bodies. It is hoped that the extra information will make the Registry easier to use. (It should be noted that the United States, unlike the other member states contributing to the registry, never provides satellite names in its UN registration documents). A small amount of external information has been used to correct obvious errors or misstatements in the registration documents; this information is included by means of a series of editorial notes.

The United States, unlike most other states, provides information on non-functional objects (rocket stages, debris objects, etc.) in its registrations. To keep the main tables (Section A) uniform, a separate list of United States non-functional objects has been compiled (Section B). A small number of non-functional objects from other nations have also been registered and are listed in Section C. The contents of the three tables for each section are described in the Key, and the numbered notes to the table are in the Notes document.

The interest of the UN Registry is that it provides an independent source of orbital information for satellites. Most public orbital information comes from the United States Space Command, which releases Two Line Element (TLE) orbital data from its Satellite Catalog (SATCAT) for all satellites except classified US military ones. The Satellite Situation Report, the RAE Tables (for the most part), and the TLEs distributed by NASA-GSFC and by T.S. Kelso are all derived from the unclassified subset of the Space Command TLEs. A parallel catalog to SATCAT is maintained by the VKS (Russian Space Forces) but this is not yet available to outside users. A third source of data is provided by the Canadian Space Society which collates observations by amateur satellite observers; this supplements the TLEs with orbits for some classified satellites not otherwise available. The UN registry, as required by UN Resolution, includes orbital information for even the US classified satellites. This orbital information is supplied by the US government and is presumably derived from the classified TLEs. However, it should be noted that in recent years the information supplied for such satellites has frequently been incorrect or misleading. The orbital data provided by the USSR, and more recently the Russian Federation, seems to be based on the VKS data and is therefore independent of the US TLEs. While the UN orbital information includes only 3 of the 6 classical orbital elements for each satellite, it is still the largest source of orbital data independent of the public TLEs, and for this reason it seemed worthwhile to make it more generally available.

Jonathan McDowell; Somerville, MA; Oct, 1994.

Note added 13 Feb 1995: I have made minor revisions to the data to incorporate information from the previously missing documents AC.105/INF.65 and INF.132, and to amend the designations for Czechoslovakia following comments from Balazs Szekely.

Note added 21 Apr 1997: I have updated the information to reflect the latest information on the UN's web site. Although the new individual documents are now available on-line, I feel that my summary table may continue to be useful.

Note added 10 May 1999: I have received updated documents from the UN; the corrected table represents the fifth edition of this work.

Note added 18 Feb 2000: I have received updated documents from the UN; the corrected table A represents the sixth edition of this work. Sections B and C have not been updated.

Note added 5 May 2003: In the ninth edition, I have ceased the labor-intensive work of updating the detailed notes file (un_notes.html) and the launch-and-decay file (un_taba3.html) since the original documents are more readily available on the UN web site. I will continue to update my own editorial comments (un_enotes.html) as required.

Note added 8 May 2009: The UN's own online version of the Registry is now comprehensive and high quality. However, the editorial notes I provide on matters such as incorrect orbital data may still be useful, so I am continuing to update the main table and the 'hall of shame' in Paper 1.

Table of contents