The Black Knight Returns: Is the Mysterious Foreign Satellite Space Junk or Alien Eavesdropper?

The Black Knight Returns: Is the Mysterious Foreign Satellite Space Junk or Alien Eavesdropper?


Astronomers across the world make a game of spotting secret government spy satellites, tracking them, and sometimes sharing the information with plausible deniability. Not everything in Earth orbit has a prosaic explanation like this object.

First publicized in Disneyland Of The Gods, John Keel wrote of an object observed in polar orbit. Its size was beyond the known means of any terrestrial space program and once in the public consciousness more observations were recorded. Some ham radio operators, precursors to today’s basement-dwelling neckbeards, claimed eavesdropping on strange signals from the satellite dubbed “The Black Knight”. From the ground it was a glowing, red object moving in an east-to-west orbit contrary to contemporary satellites. Life gets more interesting as humans take their first steps into space.

First known observation of TBK from orbit was by Gordon Cooper bringing forth explanations that Gordo was tripping balls from a build-up of carbon dioxide, but the sightings didn’t stop there. One of the more famous photos floating around the internet is from STS-088, spied from Endeavor back in 1987 long before Photoshop was a twinkle in a pervert’s eye.


One of the hottest videos to hit the internet from the International Space Station isn’t Chris Hadfield’s cover of “Space Oddity” but a sighting of The Black Knight. It bears a striking similarity to the STS-088 images (1 2 3 4 5 6).

Many questions remain on the anomaly. Why would it be seen going in an east-to-west, or vice versa, if The Black Knight is in a polar orbit? I might have more to say after acquiring my celestial dynamics degree. What says the video isn’t just capturing the reflection of a light source within the ISS? One thing stands to reason, when confronted with the evidence from observing TBK the skeptics can only cry “woo” with ad hominem attacks against fortean websites instead of calling it an astronaut’s wayward toolbag, a satellite viewed from a non-traditional angle, or at least claim the tried-and-true fallbacks of mass hysteria or hallucinations. Even the ones who say it is space junk claim to be “comfortable” with the explanation without further inquiry.

Me? I have no idea, and I look forward to following this story until there’s something more substantial than speculation from either side.


Chris Savia
Contributor at Week In Weird, in addition to being a member of The Anomalist's crack team of news editors and their social media maven. Chris lives near the Pine Barrens with his wife, six cats, and the Jersey Devil.
Chris Savia
Chris Savia

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I don’t claim to know what it is either, but it’s damn creepy looking. Considering everything we’ve been tossing into orbit since we managed to break through the atmosphere, I’d be more comfortable if it was an alien artifact of some kind; who knows what hare-brained objects we launched up there during the cold war and conveniently forgot about.

Sorry. Think my paranoia got out for a second. Here, let me reel it back in.

The STS-088 pictures are known to be nothing more than space junk. Whatever it’s the hulk of a satellite or a Soviet cosmonaut’s laundry bag, it doesn’t matter. The Black Knight itself deserves a bit more in-depth treatment. When it was first discovered, by the Dark Fence satellite tracking system, the operators immediately informed their superiors at Washington about a “bogey”, meaning an unidentified signal. Now, the problem was in communication: Dark Fence was run by the US Navy, which had not been notified about USAF activities. The bogey was the harmless Discoverer V research satellite, which had been pushed… Read more »

I would add only that novelist Alistair MacLean, sort of the Tom Clancy of his day, apparently got wind of the “Discoverer” story, which became one of the inspirations for his novel “Ice Station Zebra”.

The movie version of which was supposedly obsessively watched by Howard Hughes in the reclusive years before his death. Which I’m sure bears on the whole conspiracy somehow…

That is some laundry bag. Nobody at that time had the technical capability to launch a satellite of those dimensions and the Discoverer V was much smaller let alone a completely different shape.

“The bogey was the HARMLESS …”

“Boss, people will be freaked out by this”
“Bah, just tell them it’s a balloon – no wait, this is space, tell them it’s an off-course satellite”

it seems like you’re trying to link the appearance in the photos with the discoverer V story? per conquistador3’s explanation, these are two different narratives incidentally linked.

the photos aren’t claimed to be of Discoverer V, in this case.

Also, Conquistador3: good job managing to make an explanation without shouting WOO and making ad hominem attacks.

The image above is clearly the 60s batmobile – lost following some dastardly deed of the Penguin!

Satellites in polar orbit usually have an orbital inclination near 90 degrees, which means they actually will move east to west in the sky. “Polar orbit” doesn’t mean it is in orbit only around the poles:


[…] The Black Knight Returns: Space Junk or Alien Eavesdropper? Who Forted […]

STS-88 was in an orbit with a 51.6° inclination; a polar orbit has a 90° inclination. Depending on where in their respective orbits these two orbits intersected the velocity relative to each other would vary from a minimum of 5.0 km/s to a maximum of 14.5 km/s.

It would be impossible for someone to take 6 photographs in a split second while moving and tilting the camera without any blurring. To take those 6 photographs in a split second would also mean the background would change very little.

So in your opinion it might be

A satellite thermal cover. This video shows it floating away.


[…] The Black Knight Returns: Space Junk or Alien Eavesdropper? Who Forted […]


Greg Newkirk

I think you spilled some marbles.

Nah, I think I slipped on some of those you dropped ;-P

Greg Newkirk


This is splitting hairs a bit, but there’s a fact you might need to check that you might want to check out. STS-88 took place in 1998, not 1987. There were no shuttle flights from 1986 to 1988 following the Challenger disaster. Again, just a little detail. No biggie. 🙂


[…] week we talked about the “Black Knight” (hat tip to Zac for this week’s topic), a Fortean space object which may, or may not, […]

Wow for spacejunk/thermal blanket it sure has a magical way of maintaining its low earth orbit for this long. We have satelites in low earth orbit and they cant keep that orbit without the help of rocket boosters that fire up every now and then to keep the momentum up and keep the orbit. Damn even the ISS needs to maintain it speed or it will also fall from low earth orbit. Guess this spacejunk/thermal blanket does not follow the rules of gravity it will keep orbiting forever…..

Good Be Critical Thinkers.. .Dont Take Anything At Face Value.

Chris, Keel wasn’t the first to publicize The Black Knight satellite. It first appeared in a Time magazine story in 1960.