The Black Knight

The Black Knight

On October 4th 1957, a repeating series of four tones played on radios around the world as people looked up during the night to watch Sputnik fly over their heads.

Its stated mission was to map temperatures of the Earth’s upper atmosphere but its effect, whether or not a covert mission was to instill a sense of fear in the Untied States that Russia was now able to watch us from space. At least for 92 days. Sputnik surrendered its orbit and fell back to Earth on January 4, 1958, burning up on reentry.

Partly because of Sputnik, and partly because The United States was now launching its own satellites into orbit a tracking system was devised to keep track of our own satellites and give warning of others. That early tracking system consisted of simply two powerful radar installations that scanned a latitudinal line above the United States, the North American Air Defence System.

According to Time Magazine from that time:

First Sighting. The most important component of the space watch went into operation about six months ago with the construction of “Dark Fence,” a kind of radar trip wire stretching across the width of the U.S. Designed by the Naval Research Laboratory to keep track of satellites whose radios are silent, it is a notable improvement on other radars, which have difficulty finding a small satellite unless they know where to look. Big, 50-kw. transmitters were established at Gila River, near Phoenix, Ariz, and Jordan Lake, Ala., spraying radio waves upward in the shape of open fans. Some 250 miles on either side, receiving stations pick up signals that bounce off any object passing through the fans. By a kind of triangulation, the operators can make rough estimates of the object’s speed, distance and course.

Again, from the Time article

On Jan. 31 Dark Fence detected two passes of what seemed to be an unknown space object. After detecting several passes during the following days, Captain W. E. Berg, commanding officer of Dark Fence, decided that something was circling overhead on a roughly polar orbit. He raced to the Pentagon and in person reported the menacing stranger to Chief of Naval Operations Arleigh Burke. Within minutes the news was communicated to President Eisenhower and marked top secret.

In the confusion, there was a delay before anyone took the step necessary to positively identify the strange satellite: informing the Air Force’s newly established surveillance center in Bedford, Mass. It is the surveillance center’s job to take all observations on satellites from all friendly observing centers, both optical and electronic, feed them into computers to produce figures that will identify each satellite, describe its orbit and predict its behavior. Says one top official, explaining the cold facts of the space age: “The only way of knowing that a new satellite has appeared is by keeping track of the old ones.”

The object was dubbed Black Knight after the British space program. American military knew it was not Russian, and they knew it was not their own, they presumed it was not British, but there was no one else, not on Earth.

The Black Knight

The first ever artificial satellite was of course the famous Russian Sputnik. It was launched into low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union on the 4th of October 1957. Not to be outdone, the USA launched it’s own artificial satellite, “Explorer 1” shortly afterwards on January 31st 1958.

Fast-forward two years to the year of 1960. Satellites were still far from routine, but they had shown the military the potential of space-born attack by their enemies, and so the superpowers were now not only monitoring their air-space, but also the space above.

In February of that year, one of the listening stations that made up the North American Air Defence System, detected a radar echo. It was a detection that sent them, and the entire US Military into a blind panic.

They had detected a UFO in orbit around the Earth – an unknown satellite. None of their intelligence sources had any inkling that the Soviets could have launched a new satellite undetected. As the data came in, more startling facts were revealed – The UFO satellite was in a polar orbit – This was something that the USA had not yet been able to achieve. The size of the satellite was estimated to be in excess of fifteen tons – Massive by the standards of the day. The USA simply had no way of lifting something that heavy into space. The capability of lifting such payloads – or indeed achieving a polar orbit was estimated to still be several years away.

The CORONA program was America’s answer to Sputnik. Camera equipped satellites launched initially on THOR rockets. There were 114 Discoverer, FTV and OPS satellites put in orbit between 1959 and 1972. These objects were programmed to orbit along a specific path, then fall back into the atmosphere and be recovered by a specially equipped military plane.

Eleven of the first thirteen launches failed in one way or another. These were very early days in the space program.

Again, from Time Magazine

It took two weeks for Dark Fence’s scientists to check back through their taped observations, and to discover that the mysterious satellite had first showed up on Aug. 15. The Air Force surveillance center also checked its records to provide a list of everything else that was circling in the sky, and its computers worked out a detailed description of the new object’s behavior. The evidence from both Air Force and Navy pointed to Discoverer V, fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif, on Aug. 13.

According to declassified files from the Corona Program, as can be found on Wikipedia the description of the Discoverer 5 mission reads:

Mission failed. Power supply failure. No recovery.

The mission specifically describes a Power supply failure. Reports of the Black Knight object claim:

The UFO was broadcasting signals and was being monitored not only by the USA and Soviet Union, but also by other countries such as Sweden and a host of Ham Radio enthusiasts.

One such Ham Radio operator decoded a series of signals received from the UFO Satellite and declared it to be a star-chart centered on the Epsilon Bootes Star System – But as it would have appeared from the Earth 13,000 years ago!

From Wikipedia on Epsilon Bootis

In 1973, the Scottish astronomer and science fiction writer Duncan Lunan claimed to have managed to interpret a message caught in the 1920s by two Norwegian physicists that, according to his theory, came from a probe orbiting the Moon and sent there by the inhabitants of a planet orbiting Epsilon Boötis. The story was even reported in Time magazine. Lunan later withdrew his Epsilon Boötis theory, presenting proofs against it and clarifying why he was brought to formulate it in the first place.


Embellishment by the UFO community? Wishful thinking that entered into the lore of the incident by people who took one person’s opinion as knowledge? Dark Knight was said to be far too large for the contemporary rockets to place in orbit; a miscalculation?  Grumman Aircraft is said to have managed to get a picture of the object. Some reports say it was glowing green, others that it was red hot.

I am unable to find any information on whether Epsilon Bootis has an identified exo-planets, but what we do know about it is that it is a binary system in which one of the stars is getting ready (in stellar life span terms) to eject its outer layers in a nebula leaving behind only a white dwarf while the other is entering into a phase of expansion toward becoming a red giant. If anyone lives there they have good reason to want to leave.


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Henry Paterson