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NASA Gets Two Military Spy Telescopes For Astronomy

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the hand-me-downs-for-the-heavens dept.

NASA 237

First time accepted submitter SomePgmr writes "The U.S. government's secret space program has decided to give NASA two telescopes as big as, and even more powerful than, the Hubble Space Telescope. Designed for surveillance, the telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office were no longer needed for spy missions and can now be used to study the heavens."

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Two Military Spy Telescopes... (-1, Troll)

kdawson (3715) (1344097) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212835)

I have two military spy telescopes and one recon plane IN MY PANTS!!!111twelve

FP...

I mean -KD

Re:Two Military Spy Telescopes... (5, Insightful)

durrr (1316311) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213747)

I'll borrow this free topslot.

Seriously. The US budget division is bonkers, retarded and upside down. They secret projects have so much money just lying around that they can build two hubble-class telescopes just like that, and then figure out that they don't need them so they can hand them over to NASA, why don't they need them? Well, probably because they built something a lot better and launched it already.

Now consider then what else they're doing, and what say NASA could do with even a fraction of the money.

Satellites still need to be launched (5, Informative)

daveschroeder (516195) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212837)

They are sitting in a cleanroom in upstate New York [nytimes.com] . There is a longer, more detailed article [nytimes.com] in the New York Times. The satellites may save $250M each or more on various NASA missions, but they still need to be launched and have a program built around them — which may put dark matter research more than a decade ahead of schedule.

For the folks who don't know what the National Reconnaissance Office [nro.gov] is, the NRO is the member of the US Intelligence Community [intelligence.gov] responsible for designing, building, launching, and maintaining the United States' intelligence satellites. It does not do intelligence work itself, nor does it direct the use of space assets. Judging from some of the comments on the NYT article, I should also say this: NRO has been around for a half century, and its existence was declassified two decades ago, so this isn't some kind of "new"/shadowy intelligence agency. While its work is classified, its purpose and function is well-understood.

For a look at what kinds of work NRO does, see

Declassified US Spy Satellites Reveal Rare Look at Secret Cold War Space Program [space.com]

Twenty-five years after their top-secret, Cold War-era missions ended, two clandestine American satellite programs were declassified Saturday (Sept. 17) with the unveiling of three of the United States' most closely guarded assets: the KH-7 GAMBIT, the KH-8 GAMBIT 3 and the KH-9 HEXAGON spy satellites...

Secret No More: Spy Satellite Designer Reveals Life's Work [space.com]

Phil Pressel had kept a secret for 46 years. A secret that he shared with no one, not even his wife, since he first went to work for the Perkin-Elmer optics company in 1965...

Aside: I know this is difficult to comprehend for some on slashdot, but US intelligence assets in space are almost exclusively used for FOREIGN intelligence. Occasionally capabilities of, e.g., the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) may provide civil support in natural disasters. Our intelligence operations are not transparent, and are kept secret to deny our adversaries knowledge of our techniques, capabilities, sources, and methods. Be happy that we're able to repurpose for science intelligence assets that might otherwise have been destroyed or kept secret beyond all usefulness.

Erg...dark ENERGY, not dark matter (2)

daveschroeder (516195) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212859)

Of course I noticed the mistake right as I posted it... :-/

Re:Erg...dark ENERGY, not dark matter (4, Funny)

houghi (78078) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213435)

Of course I noticed the mistake right as I posted it... :-/

No worries, that is why we have Editors. Right?

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40212885)

Our intelligence operations are not transparent, and are kept secret to deny our adversaries knowledge of our techniques, capabilities, sources, and methods.

Security through obscurity is neither.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (2)

busyqth (2566075) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212997)

Very insightful.
Instead of hiding the existence of our intelligence assets, we should be strongly encrypting them.
No would ever know they exist, because the assets themselves would look like random data.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

f3rret (1776822) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213445)

Very insightful.

Instead of hiding the existence of our intelligence assets, we should be strongly encrypting them.

No would ever know they exist, because the assets themselves would look like random data.

You honestly think this isn't already done? I am fairly certain that strong encryption is commonplace is all intelligence operations.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (2)

thereitis (2355426) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213923)

Security through obscurity is neither.

Yes. You might as well just tell me your password.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (4, Funny)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212901)

An awful long post for one minute after the story's timestamp. I'll save the rest of the Slashdotters here the work and accuse you of working for Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, Linus Torvalds, the NSA, the CIA, the KGB, the Democrats, the Republicans, Adolf Hitler and Mr. Rogers.

More on topic, any idea where in "upstate NY" they're being kept? Whether you go by the NYC definition of Upstate or the rest of the state's definition of Upstate, it's still a pretty big area and odds are I'll be near it sometime within the next two weeks. I'm going to guess somewhere near either Rome or Watertown.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (2)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213093)

You, however, are obviously working for the Spanish Inquisition. Precisely as I expected.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (4, Funny)

elgeeko.com (2472782) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213223)

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213489)

Sorry, can't hear you, someone's carrying on about a dead parrot and there seems to be a penguin on the Telly

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213821)

Yes, but that says nothing about the Spanish Inquisit[b]ors[/b]!

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (3, Funny)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213863)

However, anyone who did not expect that comment is obviously brain-dead.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (5, Funny)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213193)

I spend all day at working writing up responses to posts which haven't yet happened on /. , in the hopes that I will be able to swoop in with a insightful long post that quickly. However nobody ever posts about Barney or Daredevil 2.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (4, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213319)

An awful long post for one minute after the story's timestamp.

A subscriber sees the articles before a non-subscriber, although you can't post until the story is visible to everyone. But you have plenty of time to read the article, and to jot down your thoughts and links in a text editor and wait for it to be ready for comments. Wouldn't you rather see a well thought out, informative comment like that one rather than a Frosty Piss or a joke that takes up the first 200 comments listed? I sure would!

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

Loughla (2531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213657)

A subscriber sees the articles before a non-subscriber, although you can't post until the story is visible to everyone.

LIES, ALL LIES!!! It's a shill; plainly that is the only answer. Don't try to use your logic on me, I'm wearing my tinfoil helmet today; it's casual Monday in the office, and nothing matches leopard print quite like a tinfoil hat.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213331)

Probably the Rome Labs. That would seem closest in line with their mission.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213379)

An awful long post for one minute after the story's timestamp.

See that little asterisk after his name and Slashdot ID? It means he saw the story way sooner than you did.
He probably had his post finished by the time it showed up on your screen.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

FranklinWebber (1307427) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213405)

> any idea where in "upstate NY" they're being kept?

From the first link in the post you're replying to:

"For now, the two telescopes and some spare parts are still in their clean room at ITT Exelis, in Rochester."

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213655)

I must have missed that. Depending on which location (they have two here), it's just a few miles from where I'm at.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213501)

hey noob, learn how the fuck the subscriber system works before you go accusing the rest of us of being clueless

the shill complaints are very specific, referring to brand new users with no subscriber status and no post history other than a long first post or posts made within a minute of a story being published. The posts have a large amount of overlap is wording, often contain references that betray the user in not actually new to slashdot, and receive an excessive number of insightful mods considering the post content

In Rochester, NY (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213547)

The nytimes.com article states that:
"For now, the two telescopes and some spare parts are still in their clean room at ITT Exelis, in Rochester."

That facility is the former Space Systems Division of Kodak. Who, according to declassified reports ( http://nro.gov/foia/declass/collections.html ), was deeply involved with CORONA, GAMBIT and and HEXAGON. Since it was a profitable division, it was sold off to leave all the loss making parts of Kodak owning the toxic waste site.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

Jiro (131519) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213055)

Aside: I know this is difficult to comprehend for some on slashdot, but US intelligence assets in space are almost exclusively used for FOREIGN intelligence.

And if it wasn't, how would you know? They're secret. This means that "we use it on foreign targets only" is entirely based upon trusting the government's say so, and they have every reason to lie (or just to make sure that the department which is giving us the denial isn't in the know about how the satellites are actually used). Indeed, if it's observing the US and that's classified, they may be required to lie.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213265)

They are designed to look for military targets - in the bad old days to examine soviet ICBM fields and ship/troop movements. What is the comparable domestic mission? Interdiction of massive scale drug operations or keeping an eye on militia organizations? Also, when their orbits are designed to overfly interesting places in the (former) USSR or China, how likely are they to overfly interesting stuff stateside?

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (5, Funny)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213461)

Also, when their orbits are designed to overfly interesting places in the (former) USSR or China, how likely are they to overfly interesting stuff stateside?

How likely? 100% chance.
Do spend a little time reading up on orbital mechanics some day.

Don't be like Tom Clancy, who wrote in one of his novels that the CIA had a satellite in geostationary orbit over the north pole.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (5, Funny)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213885)

All you need to a lot of fuel. Of course orbit is really the wrong term.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

JATMON (995758) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213509)

Indeed, if it's observing the US and that's classified, they may be required to lie.

They can neither confirrm nor deny if they are telling you the truth or lying to you.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213673)

Don't be a fool. Spy satellites are for foreign surveillance and black helicopters are for domestic surveillance. I thought everybody knew that!

But really, think of it from an economical standpoint. A $500 million or more spy satellite which has a mission time of maybe 5-10 years will cost around $10,000/hr for surveillance. It will decrease the lifespan of the spy satellite to use propellant to spy on your house at a specific time (with luck). A black helicopter will cost maybe $1,000/hr and it can spy on your house at any time it wants. And the black helicopter can land when you aren't home, steal your stuff, kill your dog, pee in your Cheerios, and be gone without anybody noticing (after it sprays the brain washing chemicals).

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (3, Insightful)

tomhath (637240) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213683)

Satellites are used where aircraft can't safely fly. Domestic surveillance can be done far cheaper/better without using satellites.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (1)

clodney (778910) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213771)

I would apply Occam's Razor and say that if the US wanted to conduct overhead surveillance within the borders of the US it would be an order of magnitude cheaper to use airplanes or drones. Orbital recon is preferable only when you can't easily overfly the target.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213169)

Oh, FOREIGN intelligence. That's OK then. Those evil foreigners have no right to privacy, they aren't even *American*!

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (4, Interesting)

f3rret (1776822) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213479)

Oh, FOREIGN intelligence. That's OK then. Those evil foreigners have no right to privacy, they aren't even *American*!

In the eyes of the CIA and the NSA and their international counterparts, no, no they don't.

That sort of is the whole point of intelligence gathering, just comfort yourself in the knowledge that you are nowhere near interesting enough for any agency to look at you.

Re:Satellites still need to be launched (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213321)

They have to wash the blood off of them first also.

Obsolete? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40212903)

So what earthward facing telescopes more powerful than the obsolete yet more powerful than hubble telescopes are watching me poo?

Re:Obsolete? (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212945)

They don't need them to watch you do that. They already contract that out to ceiling cat.

Now, turn your head to one side and cough.

Re:Obsolete? (4, Funny)

mhajicek (1582795) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212991)

Ceiling cat now obsolete. Welcome copter cat.

Re:Obsolete? (1)

bgarcia (33222) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213467)

Ceiling cat now obsolete. Welcome copter cat.

Did somebody say Copter Cat [dailymail.co.uk] ?

Re:Obsolete? (1)

busyqth (2566075) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213045)

They don't care about your poo.
They're looking for bears...
In the woods...

Re:Obsolete? (1)

blagooly (897225) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213697)

Thats the good question. Hopefully they have a shuttle/spaceplane of some kind too. This is surprise good news.

Translation ... (4, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212921)

the telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office were no longer needed for spy missions and can now be used to study the heavens

This translates to "we have far cooler spy stuff now".

But, and here I demonstrate how little I know about satellites, would something designed for looking down at Earth be easily adapted to astronomy?

You'd think the optics/instruments would be optimized for a different problem set.

Re:Translation ... (1)

T-Bone-T (1048702) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212957)

That's exactly what I was wondering.

Re:Translation ... (4, Informative)

jmauro (32523) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212985)

The article indciates that these are just the mirrors and the shells. There are no instruments and they're currently sitting in a warehouse instead of being in space. NASA would need to equip them and launch them before they could even be used for anything, but it would shorten the timeline (over the Webb Telescope) since they're similar to the existing Hubble telescope.

Re:Translation ... (1)

synapse7 (1075571) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213415)

Seems like exciting "windfall". But, what about the age and how practical would it be to re-purpose.

Re:Translation ... (1)

sortius_nod (1080919) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213497)

A lot more practical than retrofitting Hubble or building a new satellite from scratch.

Re:Translation ... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213907)

As the Hubble approaches it's end of life and no possibility for refurbishment from the shuttle, seems that NASA should offer an X-prize to companies that can viably offer and execute a mission for unmanned or manned refurbishment of the Hubble. $500M would make an interesting prize and be only a fraction of what a servicing mission from the shuttles cost. Even if the mission just replaced consumables such as fuels, coolant and failing gyros, keeping the Hubble going for a few more years would be worth it. Such a prize could help fund SpaceX developing EVA capabilities from the Dragon and such.

Re:Translation ... (3, Interesting)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213643)

Actually the mirrors are the really difficult part, with current or even slightly more advanced electronics, these critters should kick holy hinny. The really cool part, is that there are two. Place these little bad boys a couple million miles apart and now you have a Hubble class interferometer. You should be able to see aliens french kissing on planets closer than 200 light years. Add to that, these guys can be made to see in anything from infrared to hard UV, and this could be a huge boon to cosmology and those of us who enjoy astrophotography.

My only question is if these are the discards what the heck are they watching us with now? I'm worried about street cameras, this is a whole new level of invasion of privacy. So now its "Does a bear crap in the woods, film at 11...

Re:Translation ... (1)

clodney (778910) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213827)

Total speculation here, but I wonder if the retirement of the shuttle has an impact here? Is it possible that these telescopes were sized to fit in the shuttle launch bay, and with no more shuttle that requirement has been dropped and they can build in a larger primary mirror?

I can certainly imagine that at some point in the last 20 years (which is probably when the authorization for these scopes happened), that somebody put in a requirement that they had to be compatible with the shuttle.

Re:Translation ... (1)

krakass (935403) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213899)

You should be able to see aliens french kissing on planets closer than 200 light years.

Dammit, it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Gfkladjfane.

Re:Translation ... (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212993)

Hopefully these satellites were made right and have a properly aligned focus. As long as the focus is of the proper length, should be easy to adjust from far away objects (space to earth) to REALLY far away (light years) objects.

Re:Translation ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213021)

True. These telescopes are shorter and have a wider field of view than the Hubble and are nicknamed Stubby Hubbles. They also don't have any instruments.

But overall, with the moveable secondary mirror, they are a vast improvement over the Hubble. And since they are already built, with a backup, this is a major boon to space astronomy.

Re:Translation ... (0)

Loughla (2531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213687)

Stubby Hubble. . . . .Heh, heh, heh. . . . . . Get it?

It's like a short penis.

Re:Translation ... (1)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213077)

From a different article on this I read earlier today, it would seem that the fact that it was designed for wider views actually helps it for certain tasks - monitoring for supernovae, for instance.

Re:Translation ... (2)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213131)

From a different article on this I read earlier today, it would seem that the fact that it was designed for wider views actually helps it for certain tasks - monitoring for supernovae, for instance.

If only we had them operational 776 years ago.

Re:Translation ... (4, Funny)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213365)

From a different article on this I read earlier today, it would seem that the fact that it was designed for wider views actually helps it for certain tasks - monitoring for supernovae, for instance.

If only we had them operational 776 years ago.

They were, it's just taken this long for Holy Roman Empire Intelligence to declassify them.

Re:Translation ... (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213675)

From a different article on this I read earlier today, it would seem that the fact that it was designed for wider views actually helps it for certain tasks - monitoring for supernovae, for instance.

That would likely be a waste of an orbital telescope. We have lots and lots of ground based scopes already watching for this. You can do this with really small scopes. Amateurs do a lot of it. We also have telescopes arrays that are specifically designed for covering large parts of the sky very quickly, they're better suited to this kind of duty.

Re:Translation ... (4, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213119)

As far as the optics go, the main criteria in both applications is primary mirror diameter and focal length. The application-specific stuff is further downstream in the objective optics and camera (resolution, sensitivity (both what wavelengths it is sensitive to, and the effective ISO value)). From what I gather, these cast-off telescopes have a primary mirror similar to hubble's, which results in good light gathering for both applications. They also have a shorter focal length than Hubble. That makes sense for reconnaissance, because what you are looking at is so much closer, as compared to Hubble, where you are trying to resolve things billions of light-years away. However, for dark-energy astronomy, I gather a wider field of view would be preferred, so it's serendipitous.

Bear in mind though: these aren't complete, launch-ready satellites. You've got the major components of a telescope, but you are likely lacking the actual camera, plus most of the rest of the satellite components (solar panels, flight computer, thrusters and gyros, batteries, thermal management, etc.). Still, it gets you a lot closer than designing from scratch. Plus, by having certain components fixed from the get-go forces a lot of the rest of the design into place, rather than spending years trying to get past the blank page of infinite possibilities.

Re:Translation ... (2)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213165)

The mirrors are the difficult part. Hubble was damaged at birth due to defective mirror production, the corrective lens helped but any thickening of a lens will reduce the light that gets through to some extent. The Newtonian reflector didn't use a front lens at all - which would be great in space where you've not got to worry about atmosphere and corrosion (although micrometeorites are a pain).

Once the Enterprise [buildtheenterprise.org] is built, though, we can just fly to the stars. Well, once someone invents the warp drive.

Re:Translation ... (1)

busyqth (2566075) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213213)

Once the Enterprise [buildtheenterprise.org] is built, though, we can just fly to the stars. Well, once someone invents the warp drive.

Who cares about the stars at that point?
Hellllooooo buxom blue alien girls.

Re:Translation ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213383)

Maybe they were designed to look at extra-terrestrial civilizations, but now that we have far better ways to spy on them we don't need these anymore.

Re:Translation ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213487)

Not really. If you want to look at objects of different distances from the telescope, you have to be able to adjust focus, which means moving the eye piece or lens with respect to the primary mirror or lens, (either closer to, or further away from it). Since at a distance, the rays of light entering the telescope are more or less parallel, the difference in focusing between a distant object and a vastly more distant object, only require slight movement of the lens.

This is why if you look at optics you can buy at sporting goods stores, etc., the focus range goes from some short distance, (perhaps a few meters or tens of meters,) to infinity. They could design it so that the limit of distance you can see with them is a few kilometers, but with a telescope the length of which is only a miniscule fraction of the distance you're trying to see, the difference in design of a device that can focus infinitely far away, and one that can see kilometers away, is only the ability to move the lens (or camera as the case may be) a few millimeters, or a few centimeters at most.

So when you design a telescope that orbits the Earth, and is supposed to be able to see an object a small number of centimeters or millimeters across, from orbit, making it able to see the farthest stars only requires sliding the lens back a bit.

Short answer... no, the optics and instruments would be nearly identical, with the only difference being you might not have a guidescope on a telescope designed for spying. Adding a guidescope (a generally much smaller telescope with a much wider field of view, aligned with the larger scope, used to point the telescope at a very narrow sliver of sky,) should be trivial compared to getting the thing to orbit.

OTOH... we do have other ways now for NASA to get things to space. (Private companies... yay!)

Re:Translation ... (4, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213493)

This translates to "we have far cooler spy stuff now".

I would imagine satellite imagery is being supplanted by covert reconnaissance drones. The achilles heel of spy satellites has been their fixed orbits. They can pass over a target only at certain times, can't loiter, and frequently can't get an ideal viewing angle (if the hangar doors open to the West, you have to place the camera there to peek inside). People paranoid about being spied upon can predict when the satellites will be overhead (their orbits are public knowledge since it's virtually impossible to hide anything in LEO), and simply hide everything they're doing when the satellites could see. Yes these problems can be overcome by changing the orbit, but that requires burning fuel, and there's only a finite amount aboard each satellite with (as of the Shuttle's retirement) no way to refuel them.

Drones overcome all these problems, at the cost of being easier to down [slashdot.org] . But they're several orders of magnitude cheaper (a few $million vs a few $billion), and there's nothing particularly secret about optics and CCDs. The thing that's puzzled me about the drone which was downed in Iran is that it wasn't near any valuable targets I can think of in Iran. It wasn't near Iran's nuclear plant, it wasn't near Tehran, it wasn't near their major military bases, and it wasn't near the Strait of Hormuz. All of these could have been more easily accessed by a drone launched from a nation "friendly" to the U.S. (Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE). But this drone went down way out in the boonies near Afghanistan, which makes me suspect either the USAF was telling the truth and it malfunctioned in Afghanistan and strayed into Iran, or that drones have pretty much supplanted spy satellites and the U.S. is flying a bunch of these all over the place even over medium- and low-value targets.

would something designed for looking down at Earth be easily adapted to astronomy?

You'd think the optics/instruments would be optimized for a different problem set.

The wider field of view would be the biggest impediment. But the uses NASA is thinking of need a wide field of view. And even then, you can add optics which narrow the field of view (increase the focal length). It's not as ideal as the larger optics being shaped from the onset for the longer focal length (more margin for error), but it's not that big a problem. Hubble basically had the same problem - its primary and secondary optics were ground to the wrong shape. This was corrected by inserting small lenses into the light path to correct the error.

Presumably the NRO stripped out all the instrument sensors and processing electronics. Those are the parts which were most suited for terrestrial targets, and which would've had to have been replaced anyway for deep space (very very low light) applications. Typically this involves cooling the sensor to cryogenic temperatures to decrease the noise floor. So overall this is a very, very good deal for NASA. Assuming they can find a way to launch it (the 94" mirror size was dictated by the largest diameter which was able to fit into the Shuttle's cargo bay).

I'm sure SpaceX would be happy to launch them (2)

schwit1 (797399) | more than 2 years ago | (#40212973)

The CEO did a good interview on 60 minutes last night.

Re:I'm sure SpaceX would be happy to launch them (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213607)

Another 'private' organization thriving on Government pork.

Re:I'm sure SpaceX would be happy to launch them (1, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213893)

Yeah go ahead and criticize a company that can actually deliver results, unlike Solyndra and the like. The government did not start SpaceX, took no risk building SpaceX, and deserves no credit for SpaceX's success. They have earned every penny. Be glad the US now has a contractor capable of putting stuff in orbit instead of having to go begging to Russia. The problem with your type is that you think that the government paying for something entitles you to ownership. This infers that you think everyone except you should be working for free.

Now this is perfect example... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40212975)

of what could happen if we spent more on useful, scientific space programs instead of spending it on military. Think of how many missions could have been launched if we did that. How much more we could have learned about the universe.

Re:Now this is perfect example... (1)

busyqth (2566075) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213161)

We would have learned that the aliens war fleet will arrive shortly.
And we would be defenseless!

NASA Has 2 Hubbles (5, Informative)

jcnnghm (538570) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213005)

NASA has a fully functional copy of Hubble "sitting around" at Goddard Space Flight Center as well. If something goes wrong in space, fabrication of replacement components and the training of the astronauts that will fix it does not occur in space. It is invaluable to have an exact duplicate on the ground for this reason.

Interestingly, the total 2010 US Space budget was $64.6B. The entire rest of the world combined spent only $22.5B. NASA's 2010 budget was $18.7B. Many programs that people think are NASA projects are actually defense projects. For example, the GPS system is not included in NASA's budget, it's spearheaded by the Air Force Space Command, and comes out of the Defense budget.

Chances are the main satellites that these are duplicates for have been decommissioned, so these are no longer needed. I would guess they are actually two distinct but similar designs, and not two copies of the same design. I would assume NASA already determined that the risk of these satellites failing and NASA being incapable of fixing them is outweighed by the desire to have higher powered telescopes in space.

My mother has worked in the thermal blanket lab at Goddard for years. Several years ago, she got one of the engineers working on the James Webb Space Telescope to take her and I on a tour of the clean room where they are fabricating one of the core components, the micro-shutter array. The micro-shutter array is an array of 65,536 shutters on an area about the size of a postage stamp. We got to go into the clean room and see the entire process. It is very similar to the process used to fabricate semiconductors, and I think they were operating at about the 60nm level. The idea of the micro-shutter array is that each shutter can be independently operated to shut out interfering light sources, so that the telescope can look much further back in space and time for deep fields. These should be spectacular. Instead of imaging the entire shutter area as the Hubble does, JWST will be able to close all but one micro-shutter which should allow very long exposure times, and the ability to see extremely distant objects. More on the array at http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/microshutters.html [nasa.gov] .

Also, the Hubble is huge. It is a cylinder with a diameter of perhaps 15ft and a height of roughly 40ft. Pictures really don't do it justice, I had no appreciation for the size until I saw it. I know my mother did some of the thermal blanket fabrication (think the tin-foil looking stuff on the outside of spacecraft) for Servicing Mission 4. Disclaimer: This is a cross-post of something I wrote at Hacker News earlier today.

Re:NASA Has 2 Hubbles (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213145)

I had a tour of Goddard when I was working on a NASA-funded, student satellite project. The Hubble is the size of a school bus. I was stunned when I saw the duplicate / mock-up hanging there.

It makes you appreciate the fact that this thing was launched by the Space Shuttle. That's how big the cargo bay was.

Re:NASA Has 2 Hubbles (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213801)

The Hubble is the size of a school bus.

A full sized school bus? Or one of those short ones Slashdotters rode?

Re:NASA Has 2 Hubbles (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213239)

Not just higher-power, but optical. There's other, more powerful, space telescopes being built* but none are in the visible or near-visible spectrum.

*Admittedly, the Congresscritters want them cancelled, but they are for now being built. Even if NASA got these two, I'd be worried that Congress would continue being "cent-wise and dollar-foolish", with the result of them either never being launched or being sold to the Russians. Where they might well be converted back into spy satellites.

Re:NASA Has 2 Hubbles (1)

gooner666 (2612117) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213245)

Your mom had a cool job. I got to watch my mom sew jeans ;-(

Re:NASA Has 2 Hubbles (4, Funny)

jcnnghm (538570) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213327)

Interesting you should say that, because it's basically her background. She was involved in the design and production of women's clothing before she worked at NASA. Basically, she'd design patterns then make dresses. She claims it is much easier to design patterns for spacecraft than women, they don't move as much and they aren't as picky.

Re:NASA Has 2 Hubbles (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213463)

There's a replica of the Hubble in the entryway to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, it's really impressive how large [flickr.com] it is.

Re:NASA Has 2 Hubbles (1)

jbeach (852844) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213815)

In response to your sig, you don't necessarily make the poor richer by making the rich richer either...just sayin'.

Nice (1, Insightful)

Simulant (528590) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213033)


Nice to know we can afford to build spy satellites that we don't need. We have our priorities straight.

Re:Nice (3, Insightful)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213433)

Considering that defense is a much more immediate concern than astronomy, I would say that the priorities are exactly correct.

That's not to say I don't wish we would spend more on space, of course. And military stuff does often get re-purposed like this, so the defense budget is not a complete money sink.

Re:Nice (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213585)

As the Hubble itself shows, supporting a certain level of capability in space is not really a deterministic process. You have launch failures. You have failures on station. So, it is almost impossible to maintain, say, a 90% probability of maintaining a capability, without some overbuild.

Re:Nice (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213941)

Nice to know we can afford to build spy satellites that we don't need. We have our priorities straight.

Does this really surprise you? You need to take another look at how much money is spent on the military and black budget stuff. These satellites are a drop in the ocean.

Launch Vehicle? (1)

A10Mechanic (1056868) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213081)

Easy, just put them on the next Shuttle flight. Ahhh, too soon? But seriously, will these fit on Dragon?

Re:Launch Vehicle? (1)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213329)

You do know that NASA has other launch [wikipedia.org] vehicles [wikipedia.org] than the Shuttle, right?

Re:Launch Vehicle? (2)

afidel (530433) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213543)

Something the size of Hubble is going to require a The Delta IV Medium+ or Delta IV Heavy given the need for a 5m payload fairing. In fact it's likely that these satellites are the reason for the 5m variants.

Re:Launch Vehicle? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213861)

Don't you think NRO figured out what kind of LV to use before building them?

Re:Launch Vehicle? (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213903)

Of course, just pointing out that those are really the only two options unless they're significantly shorter than Hubble (in which case the 11m long 4.7m wide fairing for the largest Atlas V configuration might work depending on weight and orbit needed).

Re:Launch Vehicle? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213943)

Don't you think NRO figured out what kind of LV to use before building them?

Perhaps they were counting on the Shuttle. On one of its classified launches. But they got stuck on the ground when the program was canceled.

Or more accurately, they surplussed the telescopes and gave up their launch slots, thereby leading to the termination of the Shuttle program.

Say whaaa? (3, Insightful)

pesho (843750) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213105)

Should I be excited that NASA can use the hardware to move projects off the backburner or should I be depressed that NRO is so well funded that they are building toys they don't really need? Now that's the kind of news that can give you bipolar disorder. How can people who have been pinching NASA's pennies for years now can justify secretly building not one but two Hubble class telescopes for which they have no use?

Re:Say whaaa? (2)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213375)

How can people who have been pinching NASA's pennies for years now can justify secretly building not one but two Hubble class telescopes for which they have no use?

Same thing they've been using to justify everything for the last 11 years or so -- terrorists and national security, with the odd bit of protecting children thrown in for good measure.

They likely developed something way cooler than these since they were commissioned.

The military-industrial complex does loads of stuff they don't like to tell people about. In this case, we now know they've leapfrogged past this technology into something else -- probably some of the good bits they have locked up in Roswell. ;-)

I spy with my little eye in the sky. (1)

amoeba1911 (978485) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213121)

This really goes to show you the budget humans have allocated to watching/killing each other vs. the budget allocated for exploring the deepest reaches of outer space. Military comes first, science gets the scraps.

Why these exist (3, Interesting)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213135)

Back in the early '80s, the NRO had extra "black projects" money, because its satellites were lasting longer than the design goals, so they didn't need as many. So they used the extra money to build a really nice campus near DC. Congress found out only after it was completed, and had a small cow.

I imagine that that is exactly what these were, spares that were never needed. As other commentors have noticed, they probably are obsolete, and since they don't have any instruments, are probably very adaptable to astronomy.

Par for the course with the US (0)

musth (901919) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213299)

How disgusting it is that science projects have to scrape for money, and when something like Hubble is launched it is heralded as cutting edge technology finally arranged and afforded. But the whole time, the REAL business of the US, military and economic domination of the world, has been sucking up vastly more funds and producing more advanced technology for ITS use.

Remember that the next time you feel inclined to get all rah rah about some NASA project announcement or technology success.

I hate this fucking country.

Re:Par for the course with the US (1, Troll)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213387)

Renouncing your Citizenship is as easy as a visit to the State Department. You're welcome to go turn in your card and go somewhere else. In fact, please, do it.

Re:Par for the course with the US (0)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213401)

Were it not for the military-industrial complex there would be no NASA or even a space program.

The peaceful world you dream of will never exist and it's completely naive to even want such things.

Re:Par for the course with the US (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213793)

Indeed, the first manned American space flight was launched on top of a converted missile.

Re:Par for the course with the US (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213841)

Its naive to want peace?

You sir suck balls. That is all.

Hubble had some common history with KH-11 KENNAN (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213323)

As this NASA HUbble document says [nasa.gov] "changing to a 2.4-meter mirror would lessen fabrication costs by using manufacturing technologies developed for military spy satellites." Hubble and KH-11 were apparently shipped in much the same container [wikipedia.org] (suggesting they're physically pretty similar) and both were integrated at Lockheed's Sunnyvale, CA plant. Given that there are only so many US aerospace contractors able to work on either project, there will have inevitably been some degree of cross-fertilisation between the two. I imagine when the NASA guys get a look at their new toys they'll find it slightly familiar (the way they wouldn't at all if they'd been given two empty Russian equivalents). And when they put out to tender the work to get the things integrated and working, they'll probably end up employing the same people at Loral and Lockheed and Ball who who would have done the same work had these two gone to be recon birds.

To get a much better view of Uranus... (1)

who_stole_my_kidneys (1956012) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213381)

I couldn't resist.

Priorities (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213551)

It's amazing to see what the US government can do for science when they allocate a very small portion of the defense budget to NASA.. How advanced would technology be today if it spent all of those trillions of middle east war dollars on research?

Re:Priorities (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40213765)

Probably none, since the vast majority of technological advancements in the last century were military in origin. Think about it.

This is an outrage (1)

Cajun Hell (725246) | more than 2 years ago | (#40213891)

Damn scientists, perverting military tech for their inhumanly-focused aims.

How would you feel, if you were a contractor who worked on one of these satellites and who always assumed it would be used for some kind of warlike purpose -- maybe even to locate someone or something which needs to be blown up -- only to discover your work was going to be used for peaceful purposes?

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