UFOs In Low Earth Orbit

Unlike other photos and videos of UFOs, those captured by the Space Shuttle are unique. The integrity of the data are beyond question. In this first post, we review the findings of an independent investigation conducted almost thirty years ago of a video captured during the STS-48 mission that revealed the existence of advanced aerospace technology high above the earth. 

RIGHT: Digitized frames of a cropped version of the STS-48 video. LEFT: Time exposure showing object tracks over a 51 second period.

On September 15, 1991, Vincent DiPietro noticed an unusual event unfolding on the live video feed at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center. He describes what he saw in a report prepared for the Fund for UFO Research:

The scene begins with a lightning storm, just before approaching New Zealand. Once the storm passes many objects are observed to have movement in various directions, many of which change directions, and one turns and accelerates out into space. Other objects streak by very fast and appear to almost intersect the slower moving bright objects. No conversation is heard during this activity.

A decade earlier, DiPietro, along with Gregory Molenaar, both NASA contractors at Goddard, had rediscovered two Viking orbiter images 35A72 and 70A13 taken over Cydonia that led to an independent investigation of the Face and other unusual objects on Mars. DiPietro’s latest discovery led to a flurry of activity, and like the Mars investigation, it was mostly outside of NASA.

Independent researcher Richard Hoagland believed the Shuttle witnessed a test of an experimental space defense capability being developed under the US “Star Wars” program. One of the objects that he called the “target” appears at a point just below the horizon. It moves along a line parallel to and below the horizon. Before a flash, the object slows and seems to stop. It then changes direction, accelerates, and crosses the airglow layer. Shortly after, a streak of light shoots across the object’s path as it travels into space. Hoagland proposed the streak was a discharge from a kinetic energy weapon aimed at the target, and the flash was an electro-magnetic pulse effect induced in the camera’s electronics by the weapon.

RIGHT: Sequence starts at the point when the object seems to slow and stop and shows it changing direction and rapidly moving across the air-glow layer. LEFT: Time-exposure beginning approximately 2/3 seconds after the flash, after it has changed direction. The dotted line is the “target” captured in 1/3 second intervals as it moves across the limb and atmosphere into space. The fainter line is a streak that quickly moves from the bottom to the top of the image. It appears about 3 seconds later crossing the path of the target.

Two months after the mission, after reviewing the video, NASA agreed with the descriptions of events but disagreed that they were UFOs, instead claiming the objects in the video were either ice particles or orbiter-generated debris illuminated by sunlight:

The objects seen are orbiter-generated debris illuminated by the sun. The flicker of light is the result of firing of the attitude thrusters on the orbiter, and the abrupt motions of the particles result from the impact of gas jets from the thrusters.

From a letter dated 22 November 1991 to Representative Helen Delich Bentley from Martin P. Kress, Assistant Administrator for Legislative Affairs, NASA.

Amid the debate over the video and the thruster firing, I soon realized the most important objects were on the right. Perhaps the strongest indication that these objects were far from the Shuttle became evident in an analysis of their trajectories. A time exposure of 126 frames (1/3 second apart) shows three objects whose paths are not straight lines but circular arcs. Prior to a thruster firing, any debris near the Shuttle would move in a straight line. An object moving in a different orbit or trajectory far from the Shuttle would follow a curved path or arc. 

RIGHT: sequence showing that objects on the right side of the video are far from the shuttle and moving in independent trajectories. LEFT: Paths of objects are not straight lines but circular arcs. The curvature of these arcs suggest movement over great distances around the earth. 

An analysis of the arcs revealed the objects were moving at a speed of about 35.3 km/s – almost 5x faster than an object in low earth orbit. Although their speed is within the range of meteors (11-72 km/s), they cannot be meteors. Unlike a meteor that travels in a hyperbolic or parabolic trajectory, these objects appear to be traveling around the earth. They are moving twice as fast as the fastest spacecraft, the New Horizons probe to Pluto and beyond that was launched into a direct solar escape trajectory at a speed of 16.3 km/s.

A pilot moving at this speed would experience a centrifugal force of over 18 g. A force of this magnitude would crush a human occupant. 

Later on in the video, the camera pans down and zooms in on one of the objects (see below).

Enhancement of an object below the Shuttle consisting of three lobes arranged in a triangular pattern.

None of these objects are mentioned in the official STS-48 mission report.

For more information…


R.C. Hoagland, The Discovery Space Shuttle Video, B.C. Video Inc., New York, 1992.

Mark J. Carlotto, “Digital video analysis of anomalous space objects, “Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1995.

STS-48 Space Shuttle Mission Report, NASA-CR-193060, Lockheed Engineering and Sciences, 1991.

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