"On June 19, 1954, the American hawk-biting record was set by 76 year old Buford Davis, when he successfully bit one hawk. Tied for second place is the rest of the population of the world."
Gary Owens - The Lunatics' Book of World Records - 1972
When the CASTOR Satellite Catalogue began on January 1, 2007, I had thought that such an accomplishment had been previously accomplished by private industry and/or extremely enthusiastic amateur satellite tracker(s).
Imagine my surprise at the end of 2007, when I had detected and catalogued over 2,000 individual satellites, that in fact very little had been accomplished in this subject by anyone outside the U.S. or Russian governments.
The significance of this very unique catalogue therefore is many-fold. This is a partial list (in no particular order) of the reasons why the CASTOR Satellite Catalogue is actually very significant in today's satellite universe that we now depend on:
1) The catalogue demonstrates that privately designed ground-based optical satellite tracking facilities can detect a significant portion of payloads, rocket bodies and debris. Although it would take some time and financing to generate accurate tracking data on a routine basis, it is very reassuring that such facilities can even detect at least 3,500 man-made satellites (from all orbit types) currently in orbit. Nobody in the world has determined this fact until CASTOR conducted its survey.
2) The catalogue can be used as a useful precedent for better and more complete private satellite catalogues.
3) No other Canadian institution (including government, military, or academic) has compiled a catalogue of such a scale based on actual independent observations. This is especially shocking, since any respected institution that talks about satellite tracking (aka space surveillance) should at least have its own independent satellite catalogue to keep track of those satellites it has successfully detected and tracked.
4) This catalogue can serve as a significant motivation for those who are thinking of pursuing their own satellite tracking project. The main reason why the CASTOR Satellite Catalogue even exists is to provide information about satellite tracking based on actual observation and not just hand-waving theory.
5) Just like the Messier and NGC deep sky catalogues, the CASTOR Satellite Catalogue could become a primary astronomical catalogue used by amateur and professional astronomers alike. Although nobody can say that the Messier catalogue is particularly useful in modern times, it became respected amongst most practical astronomers because it was the very first attempt at cataloguing deep sky celestial objects. The CASTOR catalogue has the potential to receive the same type of respect.
6) Since the February 10, 2009 satellite collision, more emphasis has been placed on new ideas in satellite tracking. Since the CASTOR Satellite Catalogue is very unique in the world, it can be construed as a new idea.
7) The catalogue is real proof that someone in the world is actually caring about and practicing satellite tracking. I am sure that there are some academics, government officials, military representatives, etc. that talk about satellite tracking without ever having detected a single satellite. I find this attitude terribly unprofessional and could explain why the satellite collision occurred. In many subjects, satellite tracking especially, actual practical experience trumps all talk, no matter how convincing it sounds.
8) The CASTOR Satellite Catalogue brings the subject of satellite tracking out to the public. For the past 53 years, the world of satellites has been extremely secretive. In some cases rightfully so, but in other cases ridiculously so. I have always believed that it seems ludicrous that even though many astronomers can actually see and track satellites that are not included on the "unclassified list", the organizations that procure and launch them can deny their very existence. This is precisely why the CASTOR Satellite Catalogue contains both unclassified and classified satellites. However, CASTOR will not publish the orbit elements of known classified satellites.
9) The catalogue represents true research and development in satellite tracking. Many are content with buying new "toys" in the form of high-tech devices, high-end software and in some cases space-based facilities. Although it is easy to procure a high-end device and it might seem impressive to an outsider to do so, it is much more impressive if you can actually demonstrate how these devices are actually being used. CASTOR does use high-end hardware and software, however, it is more content with publishing what it is actually doing with this equipment. Simply saying that we have "cool devices" does not really expand our understanding of our man-made satellite population.
10) The catalogue represents something that I have always wanted to accomplish. For the first time in the history of the world, an individual has detected and tracked most of the satellites that can be detected using medium-aperture telescopes and a research-grade CCD cameras. I find this is the most significant aspect of this catalogue. Individuals and organizations can do so much with the technology of today that they no longer have to boast about the technology only. I find it very simple-minded of those who boast about their new "tech toys" but do not talk about what they actually do with such technology.
11) The catalogue is a significant motivator for those who want to do something revolutionary but think that everything has already been done. This satellite catalogue proves otherwise. Nobody in the world has ever attempted such a project single-handedly. I am sure that others will use this example as a motivation to discover their own unique contributions to the world, whatever they might be.
Some might say that the CASTOR Satellite Catalogue is indeed like "biting a hawk", i.e. for lunatics only, but many new ideas are indeed considered absolutely crazy at first (such as Ted Turner's "CNN", Albert Einstein's "relativity" and Fred Smith's "Federal Express", aka FedEx).
Many new ideas are normally bolstered by the very people who created them until such time as others take a risk to back them, cautiously at first, then as they become more successful, will attract others to "get on board". CASTOR might be so ahead of its time that nobody will dare to back it in my lifetime. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that this catalogue will play a small part in finally privatizing the science of satellite tracking, if not the actual practice of satellite tracking, which is primarily practiced by the American and Russian governments.
The CASTOR Satellite Catalogue represents an initial attempt at cataloguing those satellites that can be detected by astronomers, amateur and professional alike. It will be true for a long time to come that not everyone will have instant access to space-based telescopes, so ground-based telescopes will always be useful for astronomical discovery, including studying our vast satellite population.
"Independence is seldom seen, rarely admired and always despised."
Michael A. Earl - 2007
CASTOR Satellite Catalogue Significance Was Last Modified On December 30, 2010