Black Knight satellite: the unsolved mystery of a strange near-Earth object

2nd Nov 2023
Black Knight satellite: the unsolved mystery of a strange near-Earth object

Do you think nothing else exists in near-Earth space except the Moon, artificial satellites and the ISS? You’re wrong. There is an unidentified object ─ the Black Knight satellite whose mystery remains unclear.

The scientific community is lost in speculation, and conspiracy theory supporters put forward the most unbelievable versions. What is it? A secret military technology, a UFO, a piece of space debris or a unique astronomical object? Let’s examine all known Black Knight satellite facts and try to figure it out.

Discovery of the Black Knight satellite

Black Prince  satellite
An artist’s impression of the purported Black Knight satellite, the object of a long-lived conspiracy theory. (Image credit: Future/Adrian Mann)

There is an opinion among ufologists that the mysterious object was first noticed by American amateur astronomer Steven Slayton in 1958. Observing the lunar disk with a 20-inch telescope, Slayton recorded against its background the movement of a dark spherical body, which moved at high speed and disappeared when it reached the edge of the lunar disk. Slayton explained the disappearance by the black colour of the object, which made it invisible against the background of the night sky. Approximate calculations of the object’s orbit allowed the astronomer to determine its distance from the Earth (about 1000 km), length (10 m), and even the time of its next appearance. The high speed and strange elliptical trajectory led Slayton to conclude that his discovery was artificial. When the object appeared in the lens of his telescope for the second time, the astronomer hurried to report his discovery to the press.

In 1958, only two countries launched satellites: the USA and the USSR. But neither of these admitted that they owned the strange object. The US military asked Slayton for orbital characteristics and soon announced that the astronomer had probably observed a meteorite flying near the Moon since no radar station had found anything resembling the mysterious object.

The insulted Slayton allegedly invited reporters to the telescope, and they saw with their own eyes the object that military astrophysicists with all their powerful equipment could not or, at least, stubbornly pretended not to find.

Only in the early 90s, American military specialist Tom Erickson published his conclusions on the Black Knight satellite: radars do not detect the object because its body has a special graphite coating that absorbs radio waves.

Why was the Black Knight satellite named like that?

Black Prince

In 1972, Soviet science fiction writer Alexander Kazantsev published a utopian novel, The Destruction of Faena, about a civilization from the hypothetical planet Phaeton that died from a nuclear disaster. The book said that this civilization launched the Black Prince satellite into Earth’s orbit to contact Earthlings. The phrase “Black Prince” was translated into English as Black Knight. This is how the space object discovered by Slayton got its name.

Is the Black Knight satellite extraterrestrial?

In 1960, American astrophysicist R. Bracewell published an article in the authoritative scientific journal Nature, in which he suggested the presence of an automatic alien probe trying to establish contact with earthly civilization near our planet Earth. As proof of his theory, the scientist cited the phenomenon of delays in radio signals observed since the beginning of the 20th century, which could be interpreted as an attempt of the probe to establish contact. And this probe could well have been our mysterious object.

Mysterious signals are not mysterious any more

Nikola Tesla and Magnifying transmitter
Nikola Tesla in his laboratory in Colorado Springs with “Magnifying transmitter”, 1899. Credit: Gettyimages

The theory about the extraterrestrial origin of the Black Knight satellite could be confirmed to a certain extent by Nikola Tesla. In 1899, the physicist conducted a series of experiments in Colorado Springs, when he allegedly detected pulsed radio signals from space. At that time, humanity was fascinated by tales of Martians, and Tesla believed that they were thus trying to communicate with people using a digital code.

Black Knight satellite conspiracy theory

The hypothesis of an alien object trying to establish contact with earthlings through radio pulses became even more widespread in 1927 when radio amateur Jørgen Hals stumbled upon the unusual quality of his radio signals. When he transmitted a message from his home in Oslo, the signals unexpectedly returned to him moments later. Hals took this as an alien influence. This was the beginning of a new Black Knight satellite conspiracy.

Another attempt to deal with the Hals’ radio echo was made almost 50 years later. English astronomer Duncan Lunan suggested that the unknown object orbiting the Moon could lead to delayed echoes. He even calculated its approximate age — 13 thousand years. Lunan connected the figure with the location of the North Star, comparing the delay time with the echo reception interval.

Lunan later retracted his account, admitting that a “delayed echo” can be heard approximately 2.7 seconds or more after any radio transmission.

As for the radio signals recorded by Nikola Tesla, the scientific community has found an explanation for them. It has been suggested that Tesla most likely “heard” a pulsar, the existence of which was discovered only in 1967, or another distant celestial body that emits regular radio wave pulses. Thus, the Black Knight satellite signal was not decoded.

Unravelling of the mystery

Black knight ufo
A photo taken by STS 88 mission on the 11th of December 1998.

After Slayton, attempts to find evidence of the Black Knight’s presence near the Earth and explain its nature were made repeatedly, but in vain.

In 1960, TIME magazine published an article stating that the US Navy had discovered an unidentified object that could possibly be a Soviet spy satellite. It later turned out to be a piece of Discoverer 5, one of the first American photographic reconnaissance satellites.

In 1963, Gordon Cooper, Mercury Fate astronaut, reported seeing a UFO while he was doing the 15th orbit around the Earth. But this information was missing from the mission transcript, and Cooper himself soon retracted his statement.

Finally, in 1998, astronauts on the STS-88 shuttle Endeavor saw the Black Knight satellite in person and took its first detailed photographs. These photographs are still considered the only convincing evidence that the mysterious satellite exists in the Earth’s orbit. Having studied them, scientists cautiously concluded that these are… debris of artificial origin.

No miracle, just a piece of space debris?

Black Knight satellite facts

NASA included the object in the space debris catalogue under the number STS088-724-66. Jerry Ross, one of the Endeavor astronauts, tried to justify this. He stated that this was nothing more than a thermal blanket that flew into space when his team tried to attach the module to the ISS. Former NASA engineer James Oberg, who led the trajectory design team, confirmed and substantiated Ross’s version of the object’s origin.

Alice Gorman, an associate professor at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, also speaks in support of the space debris theory rather than an actual artificial satellite. “There are things that have a catalogue number, but we don’t actually know what they are,” she says. “It’s very difficult to see the details of objects in Earth’s orbit, even with very powerful telescopes. Although NASA and other space agencies maintain catalogues of the space debris they encounter, these lists are still incomplete and depend on how willing the countries are to share sensitive data.”

Of course, from a psychological perspective, it totally makes sense that people want to believe that the Black Knight is UFO, Gorman says, but considering that people also often mistake birds and planes for UFOs, it’s likely that they’re seeing an optical illusion.

And finally, there’s an obvious gap in the Black Knight satellite conspiracy theory: how exactly does the object remain above the Earth for so many years? To maintain flight, you need to use energy, which tends to deplete, and engines, the resource of which is limited… Are we really dealing with some amazing extraterrestrial technology that we don’t know anything about yet? Hardly…

Is the Black Knight satellite real?

Even after years, scientists are not yet ready to acknowledge the existence of an extraterrestrial object observing our planet with an unclear purpose. Here’s actually something flying around the Earth that came from nowhere. But even if we imagine that the Black Knight satellite is the wreckage of a spacecraft, a reasonable question arises: what and whose spacecraft was it?


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