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Tracking Satellites That Aren't There

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the i-spy-game-not-as-fun-with-a-keyhole-satellite dept.

66

stacybro writes "Wired is running an interesting article about amateur astronomers tracking "black" satellites." From the article: "The observers, who congregate on a Web site called Heavens-Above and a mailing list called SeeSat-L, have amassed an impressive collection of information and expertise. For two decades, they have played a high tech game of hide-and-seek with the US's National Reconnaissance Office, a secretive satellite agency. By coordinating their efforts, amateur observers in Europe, North America, and South Africa monitor satellites at different phases of their journeys and extrapolate the precise dimensions of their orbits." This is in addition to the ones we know about and even the ones we think we know about.

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66 comments

Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (4, Insightful)

vmcto (833771) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619665)

Although in my gut I don't particularly like the fact that our military satellite orbits are known to all who care to look on the Internet, the article gets the moral of the story right.

If these guys can do it in their spare time with binoculars and phone calls, so can anyone else.

Time and time again security through obscurity has proven to be a fallacy.

And if this group has increased the awareness of that fact to the US military then they are indeed performing a valuable service.

The apparent fact that they forced a step-function change in satellite stealth technology (Misty, Misty2) offers convincing proof.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (2, Insightful)

pvt_medic (715692) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619698)

hopefully, but the problem is looking at their track record they often try to respond to such challenges by silencing them.

Silence Through Procrastination Fails Yet Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14620001)


For two decades, they have played a high tech game of hide-and-seek with the US's National Reconnaissance Office, a secretive satellite agency.


"hopefully, but the problem is looking at their track record they often try to respond to such challenges by silencing them."

Well we know the NSA is a government organization. It's taken them two decades to silence these guys.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (1, Insightful)

Tweekster (949766) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619713)

It isnt exactly security through anything, what good does it do knowing that one sattelite is there.... knowing where a hundred sattelites doesnt do you much good if there are actually a thousand... its basically, well useless

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (5, Interesting)

Fnordulicious (85996) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619948)

You don't appear to have read the article.

Knowing where spy satellites are is vital if you're trying to hide something. Since even the US doesn't have and can't afford a globe covering spy satellite system a la Iridium, the eye in the sky can't be watching you every minute of the day. Thus if you know the orbits of the spy satellites you can time things to keep your unpleasant business a secret. Even if you don't know where *all* of the satellites are, knowing where some of them are is better than nothing.

Consider the situation where you want to move a pile of refined weapon-grade plutonium out of your nuclear power station reactor. It's not something you're supposed to be doing, since that reactor is ostensibly for power generation, not for armament production. You don't exactly want to do this when people are watching because it's rather obvious when you park a big shielded truck outside your reactor and load the plutonium onto it. So you want to pick a time that the bird's eye won't be watching, or at least when it won't get a good view of what's going on. This will keep you from having to answer to the IAEA or the UN or any other nuclear busybodies. This worked pretty well for India.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14620300)

Consider the situation where you want to move a pile of refined weapon-grade plutonium out of your nuclear power station reactor.

Good point but I'm sure there are other "eyes" watching these facilities. The eye in the sky may be more for tracking larger masses like troop movements or missile silo construction. Things you can't hide before the next pass of the satellite.
Despite the rumors of being able to read a newspaper from one of these satellites it is likely they are being used for more mundane things.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (2, Insightful)

vmcto (833771) | more than 8 years ago | (#14621318)

You don't appear to have read the article.

You don't appear to understand the point I made.

Knowing where spy satellites are is vital if you're trying to hide something.

Yes. You are correct about that. I understand that.

So my question to you is: How does stopping the amateurs mentioned in the article prevent any of that from ocurring?

Bzzzzt. Time's up.

It doesn't. Which was my whole point. If friendly smiley people can do it, then not-so-friendly-crazed-dictators-with-nuclear-ambi tions (and India) can do it. And anyone whom suffers under the illusion that the technology is actually being effective at catching people doing what they shouldn't be, is a fool.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14621368)

. This worked pretty well for India.

This is what actually happened(or this is what I read): In 1994, India was planning a nuclear test. The Us ambassador to India confronted the Indian PM with the satellite photos and told the PM they were watching. In doing this, he gave away the little secret of what the photo recon people look for when analyzing the photographs of a test site. The Indians simply made sure that those telltale signs didn't show up when they were making their preparations in 1998. After the 1998 tests, the NIMA(National Imagery and Mapping agency) went back to the photos and realized they had missed. So they HAD the photos but human error gave the Indian government the opportunity.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14623421)

This worked pretty well for India.

Yup... for India, the spy sats provided a false negative. In the case of Iraq (Colin's WMD pictures, anyone?), the spy sats provided a false positive. Heh.

Bad example (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 8 years ago | (#14632955)

it's rather obvious when you park a big shielded truck outside your reactor and load the plutonium onto it
Heavy metals by their nature come in small volumes for their weight. A couple of guys with a trolley loading a big wooden crate containing lead and plutonium into a van isn't going to look like much from even a satellite that has looped in very low. If your are talking about tonnes of the stuff it is a different story - but where would you find that much?

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (2, Interesting)

dhakbar (783117) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619928)

"Time and time again security through obscurity has proven to be a fallacy."

Well, it did slow the process down by a pretty long time. For the military, that's often a very important advantage.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (1)

vmcto (833771) | more than 8 years ago | (#14621340)

You are absolutely correct. And time is a big advantage.

Which is why I'm glad the NRO stepped up their game and actually developed (apparently) a satellite that actively positions in an orientation that makes it difficult to impossible for known, targeted observers to actually know that they are being targeted.

In the end, it's still security through obscurity, but it's a hell of a lot better effort at the obscurity part.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (1)

dwandy (907337) | more than 8 years ago | (#14624664)

Well, it did slow the process down by a pretty long time.
Did it?
We'll never know if the "bad guys" have been plotting these orbits since day-2.
The problem with any 'secret' is that it can leave you with a false sense of security - and that's often far more dangerous than knowing that the original information was public knowledge.
Organisations who rely on secrets that can be easily observed or discovered are setting themselves up for failure. So what decisions are/were made based on the assumption that these satelites were secret? how might they have behaved differently if the 'secret' assumption had not been made?

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (0)

Burning1 (204959) | more than 8 years ago | (#14620481)

If the military was smart it would list the sattalites pubically as somthing innocous.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 8 years ago | (#14621595)

They did that with the Corona program in the 1960s.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (4, Informative)

Forbman (794277) | more than 8 years ago | (#14620783)

Although in my gut I don't particularly like the fact that our military satellite orbits are known to all who care to look on the Internet, the article gets the moral of the story right.


Well...most satellites have limited propellant onboard to do anything more except adjust their orbit to maintain its intended design, whether it is a geostationary orbit or a "normal" orbiting orbit. They do not carry sufficient propellant to move from a polar orbit to a less inclined orbit, a high apogee orbit to low apogee orbit, etc. Orbital mechanics are pretty straight forward, and it only takes a few observations of some object to figure out its orbit. If they do, they have a very finite amount, and any large scale manouvering is not undertaken lightly, as it directly affects the lifetime of the satellite.

the obscurity required in this case isn't information about the orbit, nor should anyone really care, but on the use and purpose of the satellite. Is that "black" satellite a RORSAT? LIDAR? SIGINT? Keyhole? VESTA? THAT part about the satellite and its mission is the real secret. Orbital information has been published in astronomy magazines for some time anyways.

If you've read any tom clancy novels, you would understand that most of the baddies already know when the intelligence satellites are going to be overhead, and adjust their activities accordingly if they don't want to be directly observed.

If they are observed, either they don't know (hardly likely these days) or they DO want us to know.

Even the civilian LANDSAT and other geo-observational satellites could be determined to be "spy" satellites. Want to see how Iran's economy is doing? Use LANDSAT to monitor over time their agricultural lands. If the measured land isn't "right", then their crops have failed, which means more instabilit.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14621267)


If you've read any tom clancy novels, you would understand that most of the baddies already know when the intelligence satellites are going to be overhead, and adjust their activities accordingly if they don't want to be directly observed.


I can't seem to find those books in the non-fiction section.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (1)

vsprintf (579676) | more than 8 years ago | (#14621714)

I can't seem to find those books in the non-fiction section.

Arthur C. Clarke also wrote a lot of fiction based on the real world, and Clancy has also written non-fiction works. Just because someone writes novels doesn't mean they don't know their field of interest.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14624260)

It's Tom fucking Clancy, alright? You can stop pretending anyone gives a shit or that Clancy knows what he speaks of.

Propellant not the only way of moving a satellite (2, Informative)

johnthorensen (539527) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622709)

Ever heard of a reaction wheel? Basically, it's a spinning gyroscope, with a servo on the end of the axis. By turning against the force axis, a satellite (or the space station, or any other body) can reorient itself. With enough surplus solar power budget for this sort of thing, a satellite could rotate at will without burning a limited resource like propellant.

-JT

Re:Propellant not the only way of moving a satelli (2, Informative)

Elrond, Duke of URL (2657) | more than 8 years ago | (#14623417)

Yes, I've heard of them... even saw them being manufactured once at a Honeywell plant. But the poster did not say that propellant was the *only* way to move a satellite. The discussion was about hiding satellites and changing their orbits to avoid detection. That's not something you're going to do without propellant (and a lot of it).

Reaction wheels are great, but they only have a few real uses. One is to orient the satellite for communicating with Earth, or aiming a telescope at a star, etc. Another is to orient the satellite before igniting the engine, but, as the poster mentioned, most sats contain little additional fuel after they have been placed in their intended orbits.

Re:Propellant not the only way of moving a satelli (2, Informative)

Mishra2002 (564596) | more than 8 years ago | (#14626506)

You can't change an orbit with a reaction wheel. Reaction wheels are for pointing and positioning. the delta V required for even a degree of plane change is enormous.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (1)

Ugmo (36922) | more than 8 years ago | (#14623359)

that most of the baddies already know when the intelligence satellites are going to be overhead, and adjust their activities accordingly if they don't want to be directly observed.

Well then what we should do is send up a bunch of fake satellites, reflective balloons, spaced out so that one is always overhead in every hostile country in the world. Every rocket that sends up a real satellite could have 2 or 3 balloons too. Maybe throw a thruster on the balloons to shuffle them around like a shell game to throw off anyone trying to see which is which. The baddies will either assume that all the satellites they do see are fake and so give up trying to hide or else they will give up doing bad things.

(given the abundance of space junk already in orbit I am sure this is not advisable and is posted in jest).

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (2, Insightful)

nonetheless (600533) | more than 8 years ago | (#14620826)

The defense that because anyone can do this (or rather, here, any other large group of obsessed, well-coordinated individuals working doggedly for over a decade could do this), it is therefore ethical to do so strikes me as nonsense. That is true of lots of other activities everyone would agree are improper. To offer up a silly example: just about anyone *can* buy a sniper rifle, climb to a clocktower, and plunk down civilians. Anyone *can* monitor your cell phone traffic and sell it to a jealous ex. Etc.

From the article, there appears to be evidence people whom most folks would agree are "Bad" use info about satellite patterns to go about their doing their Bad things. Why have your hobby be making their life easier? Why not make them go through the effort of watching the sky with high powered binoculars every night for decades? Can't there be hobbies just as fun that don't (at least tangentially) help Bad folks?

Define "Bad", please! (4, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | more than 8 years ago | (#14621310)

there appears to be evidence people whom most folks would agree are "Bad" use info about satellite patterns to go about their doing their Bad things. Why have your hobby be making their life easier?


Because there is evidence that the same organizations whose purpose is going after what you call "bad" people are increasingly turning their weapons against us. When agents from a bureau whose self-stated mission is "to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats and to enforce the criminal laws of the United States" [fbi.gov] come to believe they have the right to collect any data at all about you, even library cards, without any valid search warrant, you should better start worrying. In my dictionary, an officer of the government who feels no need to respect the Constitution is as "Bad" as it gets.


Amassing as much data as we can about the methods and equipment those secret agencies have that they could use against us is an act of collective self-defense. It goes in the same spirit as the freedom to "keep and bear arms" against an opressive government.

Re:Define "Bad", please! (1)

blincoln (592401) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622129)

I fully agree.

Also, for me it would be a question of curiousity. I like to know about things. Last year I went stargazing with some friends, and we spotted a formation of three satellites moving across the sky. I thought that was unbelievably weird, and I wanted to know what they were.

Fortunately, the kind of hobbyists depicted in the article had already done the hard work for me, and I was able to find out that they belong to the US Navy, although their purpose seems uncertain.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (1)

LurkerXXX (667952) | more than 8 years ago | (#14623626)

Remember, these are people all over the world tracking U.S. satellites. It's quite possible that some of them consider US the bad guys, or at least don't think of us as particularly good, so there is no ethical problem.

Re:Security Through Obscurity Fails Yet Again (1)

stonecypher (118140) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622654)

Time and time again security through obscurity has proven to be a fallacy.

An impossibility, one might say, but certainly not a fallacy [tri-bit.com] . Fallacies are invalid supporting logic.

Nothing There (5, Funny)

blackmonday (607916) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619673)

"Nothing to see here, please move along".

Never has it been so relevant.

Re:Nothing There (1)

Kesch (943326) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619749)

Just look at this pen while I find my sunglasses.

(Insert semi-plausible cover-up here.)

Heavens-Above (5, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619742)

For the record, Heavens-Above.com isn't just devoted to tracking spy sats, although I would have gotten that impression from the blurb. The site tracks all kinds of satellites -- including ISS, the shuttle (if it were up), and the Iridium constellation. It's not just for people with a specific interest in spy sats and it is in fact very handy if you want to see what you might be able to see on a given night before going out to observe. (Showing friends or students the shuttles, the space station, or Iridium flares is pretty neat, so I always take a look before observing.)

Re:Heavens-Above (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 8 years ago | (#14623547)

Quite so - I use Heavens Above and didn't even know about these secret satellites. If I can't see them I pretty much don't care.

Just about the time my daughter turned two, one of her favorite things to do was to go outside when the ISS was flying overhead and wave furiously and yell "Hi" as loud as she could because I told her there were people living on ISS.

Misunderestimated? (4, Interesting)

warmgun (669556) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619892)

I sometimes wonder, when I read stories like this, if the government is smarter than think. What if these "holes" in national security are just bones the government is throwing to the public to make them seem like they can't hide anything? Just a wacky conspiracy theory for a boring Wednesday afternoon.

Re:Misunderestimated? (4, Funny)

mslinux (570958) | more than 8 years ago | (#14620741)

It's a red herring... they're trying to keep us from noticing the satellites going the other way (against the rotation of the earth)... they're up there, you just don't expect them to be going backwards. So when someone sees one, they think it was a fluke.

"Hey, Bob, did you see that? It looked like a satellite going the wrong way. Have you been drinking hard cider again Henry? You know they always travel over the shed in the backyard toward the school house... that's the only way they can go! I've been drinking beer and tracking these things for damn near 20 years and I ain't once seen one come from that direction..."

Re:Misunderestimated? (2, Interesting)

cnflctd (69843) | more than 8 years ago | (#14621434)

israeli Ofeq [wikipedia.org] spy satellites are launced into retrograde orbits to avoid dropping into unfriendly countries.

Yes! Just like GW! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14621587)

Everyone knows, who really plays the cards is...

Wait a sec, the doorbell is ringing. BRB.

A T + + --- carrier dropped ---

If people are not careful they might go blind (3, Funny)

TheLink (130905) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619898)

The last bit on "How to Track a Black Bird" doesn't seem to say anything about making sure to avoid looking at the sun especially with binoculars.

Re:If people are not careful they might go blind (1)

Fnordulicious (85996) | more than 8 years ago | (#14619977)

Perhaps because it assumes that you'll be intelligent? That you won't be doing something silly like trying to spot satellites visually during the daytime?

Re:If people are not careful they might go blind (2, Funny)

PFI_Optix (936301) | more than 8 years ago | (#14620085)

Crap. You figured out ou...umm...the Feds' backup plan. Back to the drawing board, I guess.

Re:If people are not careful they might go blind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14620802)

I wonder if that's the answer?
Can a satellite be parked so that it is always "in the sun" (sol-synchronous?)?
That way only chromosphere observers would see it.

Re:If people are not careful they might go blind (1)

vsprintf (579676) | more than 8 years ago | (#14621990)

Can a satellite be parked so that it is always "in the sun" (sol-synchronous?)? That way only chromosphere observers would see it.

Just off the cuff, a reversed geosynchronous orbit at a slightly different speed/orbit to match the sun's relative position would seem possible, but that wouldn't keep observers at high or low latitudes from being able to spot the satellite. And it certainly wouldn't be a good orbit for Earth observation.

Re:If people are not careful they might go blind (1)

M1FCJ (586251) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622224)

I can't understand what you mean? Reversed geosync orbit at a slightly different orbit to match the sun's relative position? Why you are at it why don't you also scream "The warp engines can't hold any more captain, we need to reverse the positron flux and shake the jiggyme to get the electrons flowing backward!", also muttering "I'm not an engineer, Jim. I'm a doctor!" might help.

Do You mean an L1 orbit? That's faaar to away from Earth to be useful, 1.5 million km opposed to around 300km for LEO. That far away, the satellite would be always in the sun-lit section of the sky and unless it is incredibly bright, objects can't be seen that close to the sun.

Re:If people are not careful they might go blind (1)

vsprintf (579676) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622398)

A similar-to-geosynchronous orbit (equatorial, same distance) in the opposite direction should keep you close to permanent daylight if the satellite starts in the proper position, yes? That doesn't account for the Earth's orbit and changing position around the Sun. Hence the need for a slightly different orbit/speed to keep a satellite in such a pretty useless orbit. It was an answer to a very strange requirement for an Earth observing satellite. Feel free to offer something if you have it, Scotty. Dilithium crystals are always welcome. :)

As I said, the "in the sun" position wouldn't apply to all observers. We could also discuss polar orbits, but that would never be "in the sun" at all times.

Re:If people are not careful they might go blind (2, Interesting)

FTL (112112) | more than 8 years ago | (#14624273)

> A similar-to-geosynchronous orbit (equatorial, same distance)
> in the opposite direction should keep you close to permanent
> daylight if the satellite starts in the proper position, yes?

What you describe won't work. Your satellite would orbit Earth once a day, backwards.

What you are looking for is to position your satellite at the Earth-Sun Lagrange point [everything2.org] (hard-core space geeks will gripe that it should be orbiting L1, but let's keep it simple). That's much further away than geo-sync, so you won't get very good views of specific targets on Earth.

However you'll get one heck of a good view of the whole Earth. That's what Triana [nasa.gov] was suposed to do. A webcam for our planet, streaming live 24h/day. Unfortunately Triana was Al Gore's pet project. The spacecraft was designed, built and tested when the Democrats were in power. Then George Bush 'won' the election. Out of spite, Triana was ordered removed [spaceref.com] from the launch schedule. Due to politics, it is quietly rusting [globalsecurity.org] in a storage container.

BTW, the launch which Triana was scheduled to ride was STS 107, Columbia's final flight.

Re:If people are not careful they might go blind (1)

FTL (112112) | more than 8 years ago | (#14624332)

> Your satellite would orbit Earth once a day, backwards.

My mistake; twice a day (plus 1/365ths of an orbit). It would also be a huge menace since it would be plowing through the geosync belt, crashing into the world's most densely packed satellite constalations. Once it hit one unlucky bird, the debris from the collision would polute the entire belt with high speed projectiles, causing further destruction. Potentially ending in a chain reaction [surrey.ac.uk] which leaves the entire orbit unusable for thousands of years [aero.org] . Please don't do this.

Re:If people are not careful they might go blind (1)

vsprintf (579676) | more than 8 years ago | (#14630851)

What you describe won't work. Your satellite would orbit Earth once a day, backwards.

That's what would be needed, so I think your corrected numbers are correct - it would take one orbit per "day". Of course it is not a "good idea", it was an answer to a ridiculous question. Nor am I going to "do this". Surprisingly, I am not allowed to build, launch, or run the MOC on satellites at my whim, even though I am allowed to post on Slashdot - who can figure?

What you are looking for is to position your satellite at the Earth-Sun Lagrange point (hard-core space geeks will gripe that it should be orbiting L1, but let's keep it simple). That's much further away than geo-sync, so you won't get very good views of specific targets on Earth.

No kidding? (And it's not MY satellite.) The discussion was about spy satellites, so there is no point in looking to the Lagrange points for a solution. It was a nonsense question as I tried to point out with my answer. (Unfortunately, I screwed up the mechanics by 1/2.)

Re:If people are not careful they might go blind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14620869)

A faster way to go blind is to go heavens-above.org (a porno site)!

How to see a black satellite... (2, Funny)

Finnegar (918643) | more than 8 years ago | (#14621384)

...against a black background?

It's on fire?

Yes, actually. (1)

dhasenan (758719) | more than 8 years ago | (#14621758)

If you made a black satellite, it'd probably stay rather warm when it's behind the earth and heat up lots when exposed to the sun. So it would at least melt, though probably the combustion would be limited.

Feel like Rummy (2, Funny)

hob42 (41735) | more than 8 years ago | (#14621815)

The public satellites are the ones that we know that we know, and these are the ones we know we don't know.

What about the ones that we don't know that we don't know?

Oh-oh Slashdot is supporting terrorists (1, Funny)

kimvette (919543) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622071)

Dubya to order the FBI to shut down /. in 3, 2, 1^HNKLH&*@*^^#Y(BHO)@*Y(#H)@*G

Re:Oh-oh Slashdot is supporting terrorists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14623323)

Whatever you say, fucktard.

Re:Oh-oh Slashdot is supporting terrorists (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 8 years ago | (#14628506)

OBVIOUSLY you and the idiot who modded my post have no fucking sense of humor.

Locations of All US Spy Satellites and Names (2, Interesting)

Ximok (650049) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622487)

Here are the names, locations, and frequencies of all the US Spy Satellites:

Freq Az Dir Velocity Alt
[Edited by NSA]
[Edited by NSA]
[Edited by NSA]
[Edited by NSA]
[Edited by NSA]
[Edited by NSA]

Maybe it's one thing to find this stuff out for yourself, but posting it online?
Thats just giving away information. Of course, there are some 8,000 man made objects in orbit right now that are tracked by our government... most of it is just trash though.
http://www.stratcom.mil/fact_sheets/fact_spc.html [stratcom.mil]

Re:Locations of All US Spy Satellites and Names (-1, Flamebait)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622681)

Umm, these are only secret U.S. satellites. Molczan is Canadian. Heavens-above is a German site. The observers are scattered around the world.

And in case you've only been listening to George Bush's version of world events, here's a news flash: the rest of the world doesn't give a rat's ass about spilling U.S. secrets. Most of them find it hilarious that a couple of guys with GPS receivers and binoculars can crack some of the secrets of the most expensive devices ever launched by the most powerful government on earth.

Re:Locations of All US Spy Satellites and Names (1)

Kagura (843695) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622797)

The original poster is right to express concern about posting this information online and in a public place. When "The Hunt For the Red October" was released, its author was interrogated by the CIA to figure out how he ascertained the real-life technical information for his books, a part of which was classified. He gathered all of the information from scattered "open source" (non-classified) locations, whose contained information were all unclassified when kept separate. However, when compiled together, it became information that was, at that time, classified.

Re:Locations of All US Spy Satellites and Names (1)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#14623628)

No, it doesn't matter if they post it publicly or not. My point was these are NOT American citizens, they're standing in their own lands, watching big shiny American satellites floating over their heads and reporting them. The satellites aren't exactly secret, and they're not in U.S. territory. The U.S. classification of information is not applicable to them.

This is where the concept of "Security through obscurity" is proven wrong yet again. If the NRO believed that these satellites were somehow "secret" just because NORAD didn't publish TLEs for them, a couple of Canadians, Australians and Germans have proven them wrong. And if these amateurs can do it with nothing more than a GPS receiver, binoculars and some pretty simple trigonometry, you can certainly believe that India, Pakistan, China, Iran, and Al Qaeda are all capable of the same feat.

Remember, it was astronomers who developed algebra and trigonometry over a thousand years ago to solve orbital problems. The math is not secret. The birds are not secret. The observers are not subject to any laws. There is nothing to be concerned about.

Re:Locations of All US Spy Satellites and Names (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 8 years ago | (#14623064)

Depending on the sattelite, all you need to see it is an inexpensive telescope or binoculars (or even the naked eye in some cases e.g. ISS I think) and you can see whatever is up there.
Trying to stop people from A.Looking at what is in the sky and B.Tracking where it goes and its orbital pattern is futile, anyone with some skills can figure this out.

What might be a concern is if, somehow, these people are able to identify exactly what sattelite it is. (for the classified sattelites anyway)

Re:Locations of All US Spy Satellites and Names (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 8 years ago | (#14639247)

Maybe it's one thing to find this stuff out for yourself, but posting it online? Thats just giving away information.

Um, yes. So what?

Indeed, it's not even giving away information - the satellites themselves go that by being visible. The site merely collects and passes along information.

If you want to keep stuff secret, you have to put it where nobody (except those sworn to be your loyal thralls) can see it. If anyone can look up and see it, it's not secret, and pointing guns at people who talk about it won't change that.

Be Afraid. (1)

Abolo (932400) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622634)

They are watching us. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The "bad guys" use radar. (2, Interesting)

gmiller123456 (240000) | more than 8 years ago | (#14622893)

A government agency of any size will be able to afford radar to track our sattelites. These provide much more accurate and instantaneous data than what individual video observations can provide.
Here's a report [globalsecurity.org] on the NOSS sattelites with a wealth of information about the sats that no amateur could ever get.

While individual terrorists probably don't have the resources (beyond heavens-above) to track sattelites, they probably aren't moving things obvious enough to matter anyway.

An extra iridium or two (2, Interesting)

Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 8 years ago | (#14623832)

There's an extra iridium sat or two up there. I went out to view a flare, and saw it.... but it was brighter than I was expecting. Less than a minute later I saw the real flare.
-russ

B.A. says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14625776)

You just a crazy fool, trackin' satellites that ain't there!

Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14632397)

Why dont they just turn on their clocking devices?

Fill the sky with dummies (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 8 years ago | (#14637222)

So there's always a GPS satellite or four overhead, but we have trouble keeping enough spy sats to see everything?

Shouldn't we just fill the sky with enough dummies mixed with the "real" spys so that no-one can tell the difference? Dummy survelance cameras at Walmart are almost as effective as the real thing. Just move around which are the real, and which are the bogus. Imagine you had concentric rings of satellites with every other ring in retrograde.

How to find Misty (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 8 years ago | (#14638136)

The way to find these stealth birds is the same way you find a cloaked Romulan warbird. Look for distortions in the background star field. Jeeze, you'd think someone here would have done their research. (:-)
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