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International Designator

International Designator

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The International Designator, also known as COSPAR designation, and in the United States as NSSDC ID, is an international naming convention for satellite
Satellite
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavour. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon....

s. It consists of the launch year, a 3-digit incrementing launch number of that year and up to a 3-letter code representing the sequential identifier of a piece in a launch.

For example, 1957-001A is Sputnik 1
Sputnik 1
Sputnik 1 ) was the first artificial satellite to be put into Earth's orbit. It was launched into an elliptical low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957. The unanticipated announcement of Sputnik 1s success precipitated the Sputnik crisis in the United States and ignited the Space...

's launch vehicle
Launch vehicle
In spaceflight, a launch vehicle or carrier rocket is a rocket used to carry a payload from the Earth's surface into outer space. A launch system includes the launch vehicle, the launch pad and other infrastructure....

 and 1957-001B is the actual Sputnik 1 satellite. The number reveals that it was launched in 1957 and that it was the first launch made that year. Another example is 1990-037B, the Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope is a space telescope that was carried into orbit by a Space Shuttle in 1990 and remains in operation. A 2.4 meter aperture telescope in low Earth orbit, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared...

, which was the 37th known successful launch world wide in 1990. 1990-037A is the Space Shuttle Discovery
Space Shuttle Discovery
Space Shuttle Discovery is one of the retired orbiters of the Space Shuttle program of NASA, the space agency of the United States, and was operational from its maiden flight, STS-41-D on August 30, 1984, until its final landing during STS-133 on March 9, 2011...

 on mission STS-31
STS-31
STS-31 was the thirty-fifth mission of the American Space Shuttle program, which launched the Hubble Space Telescope astronomical observatory into Earth orbit...

, which was to carry the Hubble telescope into space.

Launch failures are not given standard NSSDC IDs. They are instead cataloged with "arbitrary" designations, for example VAGSL1 for the satellite Vanguard
Vanguard rocket
The Vanguard rocket was intended to be the first launch vehicle the United States would use to place a satellite into orbit. Instead, the Sputnik crisis caused by the surprise launch of Sputnik 1 led the U.S., after the failure of Vanguard TV3, to quickly orbit the Explorer 1 satellite using a Juno...

 SLV 1.

The designation system has been generally known as the COSPAR
COSPAR
The Committee on Space Research was established by the International Council for Science in 1958.Among COSPAR's objectives are the promotion of scientific research in space on an international level, with emphasis on the free exchange of results, information, and opinions, and providing a forum,...

 system, named for the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council for Science.
This group subsumed the first designation system, devised at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 in 1958. That system used minuscule letters of the Greek alphabet
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

 to designate artificial satellites. For example, Sputnik 1
Sputnik 1
Sputnik 1 ) was the first artificial satellite to be put into Earth's orbit. It was launched into an elliptical low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957. The unanticipated announcement of Sputnik 1s success precipitated the Sputnik crisis in the United States and ignited the Space...

 was designated 1957α. In 1963, the system was changed to use numerals instead, but its retroactive application for ease of computerized reference was not immediate. For example, the quarterly publication TRW
TRW
TRW Inc. was an American corporation involved in a variety of businesses, mainly aerospace, automotive, and credit reporting. It was a pioneer in multiple fields including electronic components, integrated circuits, computers, software and systems engineering. TRW built many spacecraft,...

 Space Log of 1969 had satellites orbited before 1963 listed by Greek letters and those during and after by numerals.

The catalog is administered in the United States by the National Space Science Data Center
National Space Science Data Center
The National Space Science Data Center serves as the permanent archive for NASA space science mission data. "Space science" pertains to astronomy and astrophysics, solar and space plasma physics, and planetary and lunar science...

 (NSSDC), part of NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

.

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