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Space Spotters Track Secret Satellites

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the better-than-sweeps-week dept.

Space 110

Ponca City, We Love You writes "When government officials announced last month that a top-secret spy satellite would come falling out of the sky they said little about the satellite itself. They didn't need to. Spotters equipped with little more than a pair of binoculars, a stop watch and star charts, had already uncovered some of the deepest of the government's expensive secrets and shared them on the Internet. Thousands of people form the spotter community. Many look for historical relics of the early space age, working from publicly available orbital information. Still others are drawn to the secretive world of spy satellites, with about a dozen hobbyists doing most of the observing. When a new spy satellite is launched the hobbyists will collaborate on sightings around the world to determine its orbit, and even guess at its function. They often share their information on their web site, satobs.org."

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New features to block observation. (4, Informative)

BWJones (18351) | more than 6 years ago | (#22308978)

It is actually getting harder to identify satellites due to the efforts that certain governments are taking, including building in additional propulsion and stealth features built into the latest launches to alter and conceal orbits from those that might be predicted from launch. This is to prevent not only the ability to track orbits and know when a particular platform may be overhead, but it also prevents many of the current technologies like adaptive optics from being able to identify features of orbiting satellites as shown here [utah.edu] .

Re:New features to block observation. (4, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309296)

It is actually getting harder to identify satellites due to the efforts that certain governments are taking, including building in additional propulsion and stealth features built into the latest launches to alter and conceal orbits from those that might be predicted from launch.
The only people this will hide anything from are civilians and countries that haven't made any serious effort to track satellites.

I recall a dustup between the US & France where the US has been publishing orbits of foreign military satellites and French spotted a whole bunch of satellites that the USA was pretending didn't exist. The French said "take our satellites out of the catalog or we'll publish what we've found". Here's one article discussing the matter [space.com]

I only bring this up to support my assertion that any government with time and money can track satellites.

Re:New features to block observation. (4, Informative)

mrxak (727974) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309456)

Of course people know where these satellites are. Between radar and simple telescopes, they are easy to see and compare to lists of known objects. One of the main reasons the Predator and other drones are effective at finding terrorists and the like out in the mountains or desert is because the terrorists know when our satellites are going overhead. They hide when the satellites goes over, and move when the sky is clear overhead, which is when we send out our drones. It's a constant struggle to keep our satellites' orbits changing so the people we want to spy on get caught.

Re:New features to block observation. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22309522)

Umm, I call bullshit on this one. I don't think that there are nearly enough satellites to be able to track movement across an entire country, regardless of orbit. They could put a dozen in geosynchronous orbit over Afghani-Pakistan and they wouldn't catch shit, except for hi-rez pictures of camels humping.

Re:New features to block observation. (1, Funny)

sholden (12227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309814)

Yes, hi-rez pictures of camels humping from geosynchronous orbit. Try Engaging brain before keyboard.

Re:New features to block observation. (3, Informative)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310224)

Indeed, spy sats have orbits only a few 100km high. Geosynchonous orbit is 36.000km. Much too far for closeup images.

Re:New features to block observation. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22313308)

Plus, it doesn't make much sense to track a satellite that's directly overhead.

"Where is it now, Yasir?"

"I give you three guesses, Rashid!"

Re:New features to block observation. (2, Interesting)

BWJones (18351) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309600)

You don't know how right you are... I just finished visiting a certain location, taking photos and writing for an article on UAV operations. The experience was truly amazing with operations that would have been absolutely impossible just a few years ago being done on a daily basis.

Re:New features to block observation. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22313062)

Such technology is a double-edged sword. Be careful what you wish for because it can be used against you.

Re:New features to block observation. (2, Insightful)

jericho4.0 (565125) | more than 6 years ago | (#22314060)

"and countries that haven't made any serious effort to track satellites"

The civilians benefit from the "many eyes" factor of open collaboration. A complete program to track satellites requires many trained observers, in many locations, who can stand outside all night, every night. Also some math boffins. I wouldn't be surprised to find that even G8 nations with active space programs find the satobs.org info of value.

What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (5, Insightful)

KublaiKhan (522918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309028)

No real surprise that folks are spotting these things. It's a little hard to hide something orbiting the earth--it's not like one can really hide it behind a bush or under a rock. ...though it might be interesting to insert a spy satellite into an upper stage of a rocket that delivers an otherwise innocuous communications satellite, come to think of it...

Re:What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309150)

True. However, I *think* (I could be totally incorrect, or my statement may not be true in general -- yes, I'm new here) that communications satellites are usually in orbits (geosynchronous) which are not exactly conducive to spying.

Re:What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (5, Interesting)

KublaiKhan (522918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309300)

Which is what would make a discarded upper stage ideal--because you would expect it to be in a lower orbit than the satellite that it pushed out. Blow off a couple side panels, stabilize the tumble into something useful, and you're in with flynn.

Re:What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (1)

barzok (26681) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310194)

Except that it would be obvious in the regularity of its orbit and lack of a "tumble.

Re:What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (5, Interesting)

KublaiKhan (522918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310432)

All orbits are regular--and one could always fake an accident with the thruster at the end "pushing it into an unexpected orbit"

And not all the tumble would need to be removed--just set it into a tumble that would allow the cameras or other instruments on board to record properly, on an axis around the camera lens, say.

Hell, I'm surprised they haven't done something like that already.

Re:What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310670)

Hell, I'm surprised they haven't done something like that already.

Yes! That is very surprising guys. Right? Oh yeah, completely surprising.

But to take it seriously for a moment. It would be very hard to keep it in orbit. Even though it is in 'space' there is still a bit of drag. You would then need very complex algorithms to perform station keeping. It would require a lot of energy to maintain such an orbit, and still take pictures.

But again, we would ignore the 'curiosity' factor that governments would have about a piece of space junk that happens to maintain an orbit that passes over their country.

Re:What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (2, Informative)

Jarjarthejedi (996957) | more than 6 years ago | (#22315668)

As opposed to the hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of space junk that are already passing over their country.

There's a lot of junk up there in pretty regular orbits. Most of it's not low enough for a standard spy satellite but it's not like space is a pristine clean area where only designated satellites are flying around and there's nothing else up there...

Re:What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (1)

tomhath (637240) | more than 6 years ago | (#22315232)

I'm surprised they haven't done something like that already.

What makes you think they haven't?

The satellite spotters brag about the ones they find, but they have no idea how many are up there that they've never detected.

Re:What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (2, Informative)

Dusty101 (765661) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310544)

This is exactly what the alien invaders did in one episode of the old "U.F.O." T.V. series: http://ufoseries.com/ [ufoseries.com]

Re:What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (1)

da5idnetlimit.com (410908) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310566)

One ideal place would be the gps sat constellation. It's, like, hidden in plain view. And people INSIST they have to be on 24/7/365.24. And that they are changed to new ones whenever one fails.

How Not To Be Seen (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 6 years ago | (#22313882)

It's a little hard to hide something orbiting the earth--it's not like one can really hide it behind a bush or under a rock. ...

Unless we teach these satellites how not to be seen [wikipedia.org] .

Re:What one seeks to hide, another can uncover (1)

jswatz (99824) | more than 6 years ago | (#22316570)

There are very clever things that the government does to conceal and hide the satellites, sure -- some of the spotters believe the satellites are programmed to twitch into a less visible orientation when they are to pass over, say, Toronto. But space is transparent, and imaging tech gets better and better. And yes, I'm the guy who wrote the story.

This is news? (4, Informative)

rmadmin (532701) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309070)

If you look at the satobs site, it hasn't been updated since 2004. WTF?

Re:This is news? (1)

iocat (572367) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309190)

I was expecting some sneaky, Lone Gunman type site, but it was just, you know... nerds.

Re:This is news? (2, Insightful)

rholland356 (466635) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309392)

Say... no activity since 2004?

Anyone checked on the health of the sat-watchin' dozen? Perhaps they have been dispatched, CIA-style. You know, to keep terrorists from getting their hands on the info, and to protect the children.

Re:This is news? (2, Funny)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309498)

Yep, the information would be highly useful to terrorists - they could probably shoot down the satellites with their AKs!

Re:This is news? (2, Informative)

rholland356 (466635) | more than 6 years ago | (#22315128)

Yep, the information would be highly useful to terrorists - they could probably shoot down the satellites with their AKs!


If someone were conducting a war against you, and you knew they used satellite imaging to track your movements, and you knew the timing of the satellites over your turf, I think you could come up with some effective strategies for creating disinformation, or avoiding detection.

You know, so you could aim your AKs at ground targets with less risk to you and greater harm to the target.

And, given that it is nigh-impossible to change a satellite's orbit after launch, you could benefit today from information gleaned in 2004.

I'm just sayin'...

Re:This is news? (2, Informative)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#22315614)

Not impossible if it has thrusters (as mentioned in the first post I think it was?). The satellites are also only really useful when you know what you're looking for. A small terrorist cell doesn't have to operate out in the open or in a fixed base, they could be a bunch of people that met online (maybe not that likely, but possible) and have yet to even meet irl.

Re:This is news? (1)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 6 years ago | (#22314436)

Perhaps they have been dispatched, CIA-style.

I like that term, "dispatched CIA-style." Does that mean their facial hair has been removed, or maybe their lawns defoliated?

Re:This is news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22319414)

You're an idiot. Check the mailing list archives.

I would say... (4, Funny)

arkham6 (24514) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309080)

to these people that they need to get out more, but it appears they already do.

Re:I would say... (1)

shawn(at)fsu (447153) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309238)

Ha! So getting out and Getting out have to different meanings.
Seriously though, I'm sure the other big powers can track satellites as good as anyone, so these people determining orbits really isn't special and as so far as "Guessing at their function. I can do that from my cube. I guess spy satellites are there to spy on things. Gee that hard. Now if they could determine the nature of the remote sensing done that would be impressive. Like is it visible light or what is it's resolution etc. All in all it seems this is a whole lot of nothing interesting.

Government for you. (5, Insightful)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309122)

Spokesmen for the National Reconnaissance Office have stated that they would prefer the hobbyists not publish their information, and suggest that foreign countries try to hide their activities when they know an eye in the sky will be passing overhead.

And:"If Ted can track all these satellites," Mr. Pike said, "so can the Chinese."

That's damn straight. WTF is it with Government when they say shit like this? What, they think the rest of the World is too stupid to do this? Or photos in the airports by security. I got news for the Government: there are folks out there that have great memories and can draw. Go through security, look around, and then draw what you saw when you sit down and no one will no any different.

Re:Government for you. (1)

nasor (690345) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309428)

Because, hey, if three guys with a $500 telescope, some lawn chairs, a six-pack of beer and nothing else to do on a Friday night don't do it, maybe hostile foreign governments won't either! Riiiiight.

Re:Government for you. (4, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309570)

Because, hey, if three guys with a $500 telescope, some lawn chairs, a six-pack of beer and nothing else to do on a Friday night don't do it, maybe hostile foreign governments won't either! Riiiiight.

Well, maybe they're hoping all the hostile foreign government agents have plans for Friday night.

Re:Government for you. (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310822)

That's right up there with, "We're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here."

So it seems that SOMEBODY in the administration has the "Top Secret Terrorists Procedural Manual" and has found where it states:

1: Terrorists may only open one front at a time, so if Iraq is busy there will be no attacks on the US.

2: Terrorists either can't or won't track US spy satellites themselves, so if US hobbyists don't do it, it won't get done.

I'm sure the administration has the rest of the rules, but of course they're secret.

Re:Government for you. (2, Funny)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310046)

a six-pack split three ways? cmon man

Re:Government for you. (4, Interesting)

32771 (906153) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310064)

Well most developed nations could develop radar installations to track space junk and their own satellites.

(I just wanted to know about the object size one can track and found some interesting paper:
http://www.esa.int/esapub/bulletin/bullet109/chapter16_bul109.pdf [esa.int] )

Also consider the Chinese anti missile test some months ago, the Chinese should also be able to track their
space junk if this experiment was to be meaningful.

The problem is though that even lesser developed Nations without their own space program have the need to protect
their defense installations. Even though their means might be limited they certainly can do damage to an attacker
within range of their defenses. So even they want to detect the prying eyes in the sky.

What they probably don't have is the same number of guys with a telescope, spare time, and the education to hunt
for satellites and even guess their purpose. Combined with a distribution medium like the internet for collaboration
and collection of information that a bunch of amateurs would have come up with easily, this would become a valuable
source of information to those lesser developed nations. This would only cost you an internet connection and an OLPC.

they're trying to save you money (1)

Quadraginta (902985) | more than 6 years ago | (#22311158)

Uh...it's not that they really think the Chinese, for example, are stupid or lack resources. But they're not really trying to hide from the Chinese. (Or more precisely, what they're trying to hide from the Chinese they really try to hide, which means they don't even talk about it in public.)

What they're trying to hide it from is some cheapass Taliban group in the hinterlands of Pakistan, who may, as someone else pointed out, have access to the Internet and be able, once given a satellite's orbit, be able to know when it's over their neck of the woods, and plan operations accordingly.

And it's not that they fear amateurs will compromise black satellites. That can only happen, at best, temporarily. It's that if amateurs start compromising satellites, then they need to build and launch much more expensive black satellites that defy amateur attempts at compromise. Which costs you, the taxpayer, beaucoup additional dollars.

I don't mind people trying to spot black satellites. Fun 'n' games, to be sure. But a certain amount of discretion would be grown-up and helpful. I mean, I happen to know, because of my professional background, how to synthesize meth and other interesting substances. But I wouldn't post the steps on /. Not because they should be secret per se, but just because one doesn't leave loaded guns lying around where children can get to them.

Re:they're trying to save you money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22313256)

What they're trying to hide it from is some cheapass Taliban group in the hinterlands of Pakistan, who may, as someone else pointed out, have access to the Internet and be able, once given a satellite's orbit, be able to know when it's over their neck of the woods, and plan operations accordingly.

Judging from all of the drones, planes, guys with binocs, etc we've got crawling around out there I think they pretty much assume they are always under surveillance. Though why their bosses insist on occasionally traveling in groups in cars is beyond me.

then they need to build and launch much more expensive black satellites that defy amateur attempts at compromise. Which costs you, the taxpayer, beaucoup additional dollars.

Then don't do that. Oh yah, I forgot, taxpayers have no real say in how their money is spent.

But a certain amount of discretion would be grown-up and helpful.

Government waste and abuse of power is like a cockroach, it prefers not to have a light shined on it.

Re:they're trying to save you money (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#22316038)

What they're trying to hide it from is some cheapass Taliban group in the hinterlands of Pakistan, who may, as someone else pointed out, have access to the Internet and be able, once given a satellite's orbit, be able to know when it's over their neck of the woods, and plan operations accordingly.

This is nonsense. First of all, "THE TERRORISTS" can use the same techniques to track satellites. They're pretty good at math in that part of the world. Second, it's a good thing for anyone "FIGHTING TERROR" (cough cough) if THE TERRORISTS are hiding when the satellites are going overhead, even if that means you can't spot them on satellite, because it's just that much less time they have for operations. Then you fly some of those backpack drones around (must make being a soldier more fun if you can take the occasional radio controlled plane break in between mortar rounds and IED attacks) and spot them with that in the remaining time. For extra points, fly the satellites over at night, then you don't have to go on bughunts in the dark with your drones.

And it's not that they fear amateurs will compromise black satellites. That can only happen, at best, temporarily. It's that if amateurs start compromising satellites, then they need to build and launch much more expensive black satellites that defy amateur attempts at compromise. Which costs you, the taxpayer, beaucoup additional dollars.

No, I disagree. An opportunity to spend more taxpayer money is a feature, not a bug. At least, if you're one of the fat cats siphoning off the top of the till (how's that for a mixed metaphor?)

Re:they're trying to save you money (1)

Legion303 (97901) | more than 6 years ago | (#22319390)

"What they're trying to hide it from is some cheapass Taliban group in the hinterlands of Pakistan, who may, as someone else pointed out, have access to the Internet"

They might even have access to (*gasp!*) binoculars.

Re:Government for you. (1)

gr8scot (1172435) | more than 6 years ago | (#22318814)

That's damn straight. WTF is it with Government when they say shit like this? What, they think the rest of the World is too stupid to do this?
That was just the left hand. At the same time, the right hand wanted access to the logs of the servers that host that information. We can just hope there is half as much inter-agency collaboration as the average /.-er can imagine in a 5 minute analysis.

real time tracking data on USA-193 (5, Informative)

Bazzargh (39195) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309198)

The links in TFA aren't very good - theres a site
here [n2yo.com] that does real time sat tracking (ooh, animated over google maps).

I looked there last week and they didn't have enough data to show the orbit but it seems they have some elements now.

Re:real time tracking data on USA-193 (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22309442)

http://www.heavens-above.com/ [heavens-above.com] also has a great tracking site for this Satellite (requires free registration).

Re:real time tracking data on USA-193 (3, Interesting)

StarfishOne (756076) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310306)

Heavens Above is also wonderful for predicting so-called Iridium flares [wikipedia.org] . These are bright flashes of light caused by the satellite in question reflecting the light of the Sun. These can reach a magnitude of -8 and -9... can be very spectatular to see. A bit like a small lighthouse in the sky. :)


If you're really enthusiastic, you can build your own laser [fbrtech.com] to point to the correct spot in the sky! ;)


And if you want to be up to date all the time, why not download the OSX Iridium Flare Dashboard widget [dashboardwidgets.com] ? :D


Happy flare spotting!

Re:real time tracking data on USA-193 (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 6 years ago | (#22311968)

Heavens Above is also wonderful for predicting so-called Iridium flares.

I was on an astronomy trip once and one of the people there was a satellite geek who came equipped with info about the flares. The coolest part was that he could predict it so accurately that he could do a countdown of "3... 2... 1..." then *fwoosh* it appeared in the sky -- no laser needed to point out where it was. It was near dusk, not a bright sky but still light enough that Venus wasn't visible. The flare sure as hell was visible; very bright, very awesome. :)

Too late......I think we hit a nerve, guys...... (1)

Anachragnome (1008495) | more than 6 years ago | (#22314052)

The NASA link at the bottom of the page linked in your post has already been squashed. Poof.

I'd also like to point out that in the time it took me to read down this far, then refresh my screen, at least 4 posts have been REMOVED FROM THIS THREAD. WTF!???

I REPEAT! WTF!??

Big machines in space, you bet. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22309264)

Two Words: (1)

CSMatt (1175471) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309318)

Active camouflage.

Re:Two Words: (1, Funny)

Trigun (685027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309550)

Two more: Appalachian mongoose.

Re:Two Words: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22310500)

Two further words: Antediluvian sunscreen.

In soviet russia... (1)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309412)

In soviet Russia: Spy satellites track hidden satellite spotters... wait...

Nothing for you to see here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22309518)

Move along now.

Obligatory (1, Funny)

TurinPT (1226568) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309546)

1995 called. They want that website back.

*yawn* (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309658)

Nothing to see here - this gets reported on Slashdot about once a month. Move along.

That's OK with me, I'm new here. (1)

gr8scot (1172435) | more than 6 years ago | (#22319060)

& I guess I missed it last month.

Maybe if those "secret" satellites (1)

WormholeFiend (674934) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309790)

weren't the size of a small bus, they'd be harder to spot?

Re:Maybe if those "secret" satellites (1)

deft (253558) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310288)

Yeah, but then YOU'D be harder to spot. Think of the massive optics/lenses, accompanying gear needed to power it, communications, orbit maintenance (thrusters), fuel, etc. Now you're getting up there is size. Now supply it with this stuff so it works for years.

It's not just launching a canon elph with a wifi card. :)

How not to be seen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22309802)

These satellites could take some lessons from Mr. Nezbit.

How about these? (0, Troll)

siyavash (677724) | more than 6 years ago | (#22309994)

How about these... check out the videos, amazing : http://www.rense.com/Datapages/mystmachinedata.htm [rense.com]

These seem to be HUGE machines in orbit around Earth.

Re:How about these? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22310614)

SOL.

c'mon ppl - parent is BS (4, Insightful)

tacokill (531275) | more than 6 years ago | (#22311248)

Put on your skeptical hats. Do you really think there are "huge machines" in low earth orbit that nobody else, aside from the link, can see? John Walson isn't the only one watching the sky. There are people who do this for a living and nobody else can see what he is seeing. As in, not a single person has been able to confirm his "finding". Therefore, one can only conclude that he is full of it.

There is no mystery because there are no machines.

I can't believe the parent got modded up on /. of all places. Wow....how far we've fallen.

Re:c'mon ppl - parent is BS (2, Funny)

Terrasque (796014) | more than 6 years ago | (#22314936)

In addition to discovering and refining his optical telescope videotaping technique, John has also discovered how to actually hear and record the sounds in real time coming from the particular craft he is videotaping. By carefully aligning a satellite dish receiver with his telescope, he has been able to record some very unusual and intriguing sound from the different spacecraft...
How can you call these fakes?? He has even recorded sounds from them! Sound! From these space .. crafts.. which is .. in space.. which is famous for its inability to lead sounds.. clearly he is a misunderstood genius that have all these incredible new technologies which he stole from the aliens he is taking pictures of. Right.

It's good entertainment tho :)

Re:c'mon ppl - parent is BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22317932)

Nice attempt at a straw man. The site in question says he recorded sounds from a satellite dish receiver that was aligned with his telescope. Making up bullshit like you have doesn't help in attempts to debunk conspiracy theories.

Re:How about these? (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22311292)

Given that one of them looks like an X-wing, I can only come to one of 2 conclusions:

1) Raving fakes, or
2) Darth Vader is our God, and Lucas is his Prophet.

Re:How about these? (2, Funny)

hachete (473378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22311322)

Also, large machines orbiting his house:

http://www.rense.com/general79/wdx2.htm [rense.com]

The Black Ops boys must have money to burn if they can send a gdam CHINOOK to photograph him

Re:How about these? (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 6 years ago | (#22313140)

>These seem to be HUGE machines in orbit around Earth.

Those are obviously Xenu's soul catchers.

Re:How about these? (1)

gr8scot (1172435) | more than 6 years ago | (#22319076)

I wonder if they're just in lower orbits than the space station.

Nuke Fallout (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310032)

Can these spotters tell whether a secret satellite has a nuke reactor or materials onboard? Because there's no way to know the overall risk those kinds of craft pose to us so long as they're all secret. And if the risks are no impediment to their launch, then they're more likely to be launched. There's no way to know whether we're already suffering from junk nuke craft falling back to Earth.

Re:Nuke Fallout (4, Funny)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310164)

Yes it is very easy. all you need to look for the three sided black symbol printed on a yellow square or circle.

http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://bp1.blogger.com/_BYX14125JUQ/RpVqASyl-cI/AAAAAAAADU8/R2ettoJs-Z8/s400/Nuclear_Warning_Symbol.gif&imgrefurl=http://fergdawg.blogspot.com/2007_07_08_archive.html&h=225&w=225&sz=8&tbnid=Ov10iqjDEvf1QM:&tbnh=108&tbnw=108&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dnuclear%2Bsymbol%26um%3D1&start=3&sa=X&oi=images&ct=image&cd=3 [google.com]

take the above for example. They print them HUGE on the satellite to make sure the aliens and astronauts don't go messing with the satellites for fun.

Re:Nuke Fallout (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22310790)

Of course they can. They just look for the radioactive hazard stickers that the NGA is kind enough to plaster on the sides of their spy satellites.

Baloney. Re:Nuke Fallout (4, Informative)

EQ (28372) | more than 6 years ago | (#22312004)

Doc, you need to subscribe to some technical literature instead of the nuclear paranoia you seem to subscribe to. This situation is pretty obvious if you bother to think instead of knee-jkerk react. You seem to start with the pre-judeged assumption that some sort of comic-book conspiracy of evil overlords runs the US Intelligence agencies and will irrationally choose evil nukes over engineering practicality, in order to be more menacing.

Wrong. Be rational. There are solid engineering and budgetary reasons at work here. No "secrecy" can hide those issues, no matter the classification fo the satellite. Physics, like mathematics, sooner or later breaks attempts at classifying it. And there are limits on the money spent, even in a "black" budget project. If things go bad, you can bet overspending will leak out. Google SBIRS-High for a good example - look at the globalsecurity.org entry (pic is taken looking S from Buckley AFB - I used to live to the west of that hill full of houses in Aurora CO).

The weight and expense to power ratio for plutonium or other decay based power systems is too high compared to solar arrays and batteries when in low earth orbit. The stuff that uses nukes is generally interplanetary in nature and cannot depend on solar. This is especially true with US launched stuff. Plus, nuclear power units have too high a heat signature to be used for "stealthy" sats, and are heavy and too expensive to launch if there is a cost-worthy alternative. Which there is: good ol' solar arrays, nice and thin.

The intelligence agencies would much rather have more gizmos if given the choice. Solar arrays provide them with better weight tradeoffs, and more power as well -- meaning they can add more stuff and use more power hungry stuff. And they are cheaper to deploy, and less likely to run afoul of regulatory issues i.e. try dragging a nuc design for LOE (low earth orbit) in front of an Engineering Design Review board - they'll laugh you out of the room for being politically stupid.

And if you are talking about the voiced concerns that the satellite in question (US-193, NROL-21) has hazardous material, well that hazmat is rocket fuel for orbital manuvering - the full load of it given that the sat never deployed the solar arrays, nor attemted to manuver to a more stable higher orbit. Chemicals. Not nukes.

Re:Baloney. Re:Nuke Fallout (1)

Knara (9377) | more than 6 years ago | (#22312872)

Wrong. Be rational. There are solid engineering and budgetary reasons at work here. No "secrecy" can hide those issues, no matter the classification fo the satellite. Physics, like mathematics, sooner or later breaks attempts at classifying it. And there are limits on the money spent, even in a "black" budget project. If things go bad, you can bet overspending will leak out. Google SBIRS-High for a good example - look at the globalsecurity.org entry (pic is taken looking S from Buckley AFB - I used to live to the west of that hill full of houses in Aurora CO).
I always wondered what those were.

Re:Baloney. Re:Nuke Fallout (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22316752)

Blah blah blah.

What about a satellite that doesn't want to depend on solar power, like a satellite killer, or just one immune to that kind of satellite attack?

Oh yeah, there have already been nukes have already powered satellites [wikipedia.org] , and the same physics and engineering requirements would make them appropriate again.

And I don't think that the spooks with the nukes are afraid of having to pass regulatory boards when they don't want to.

Re:Nuke Fallout (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 6 years ago | (#22312462)

To my knowledge, there are no nuclear reactors on satellites, only radioactive materials that are used as a power source.

Given the nature and quantity of these materials and the price of these satellites, the probability that the risk posed to the populace is anything other than "negligible" is small.

Re:Nuke Fallout (1)

mmontour (2208) | more than 6 years ago | (#22313212)

To my knowledge, there are no nuclear reactors on satellites, only radioactive materials that are used as a power source.
Maybe true for stuff that's being launched today, but nuclear reactors [wikipedia.org] have definitely been used on satellites. Some of the reactor cores are still up there, but others have crashed (including one that hit northern Canada in 1978).

Re:Brain Fallout (1)

dsmall (933970) | more than 6 years ago | (#22317652)

You want to be very precise and point out that plutonium-238 (not -239, the weapons material) is used solely as a heat source, to drive in effect a reverse Peltier-junction electrical source.

Unfortunately, many people reflexively twitch when they hear the word "plutonium". You know ... "plutonium ... BAAAAAD!!". A small quantity of plutonium is a respectable coffee boiler.

Re:Brain Fallout (1)

mmontour (2208) | more than 6 years ago | (#22318550)

You want to be very precise and point out that plutonium-238 (not -239, the weapons material) is used solely as a heat source, to drive in effect a reverse Peltier-junction electrical source.
I was talking about the fission reactors (U-235 fuel) used in the RORSATs, not plutonium-238 RTGs. See this link [svengrahn.pp.se] for more information.

Re:Nuke Fallout (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#22313384)

Does your knowledge include classified info about these satellites? Because that'e exactly what I'm talking about.

Feds need to use teathers. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310036)

They can use it to change the positions of the sats for more than a decade.

Whose teats? (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 6 years ago | (#22313984)

Teat-hers?

a label of treason for topic? (1)

hachete (473378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310182)

c'mon, you're giving tin-foil wearers and right-wing wing-nuts a bad name here.

Space Spotters Stalk Secret Satellites (2, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310638)

Say that three times real fast and you're admitted to the Satellite Stalkers club.

Re:Space Spotters Stalk Secret Satellites (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22312568)

Don't you mean the Satellite Stalkers Society?

Paint it black? (4, Funny)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 6 years ago | (#22310794)

Why don't they all just paint their satellites black?

Re:Paint it black? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22311614)

At the risk that this might (not) be a genuine question - because anything black gets awfully hot in space (solar heating, and no way to shed it again other than radiating it). A vacuum is a wonderful thermal insulation, which is why one of the biggest conceptual problems for all spacecraft (and suits) is to get rid of the heat they inevitably generate additionally to what they pick up from the sun, counterintuitive to the public misconception of space being "cold". And still you probably couldn't paint it black enough that it would disappear in front of the as-black-as-it-gets backdrop that is the blackness of space itself. No, if you want to hide something visually in space, you need a mirror, because at the proper angle it would show you nothing but that blackness.

Re:Paint it black? (1)

sabt-pestnu (967671) | more than 6 years ago | (#22315588)

Some of them ARE 'painted black', either for useful heat reasons, or some amount of concealment.

The difference between a "still not as black as a night sky" and "reflecting the sun like nobody's business" is big enough that you have to move up a class in telescope.

Which means that it is harder for folks with a 6" telescope or binoculars to spot the things.

... Which in turn is important, because those big installation telescopes don't grow on trees. The fact that there is a distributed network of inefficient sensors (amateurs with small scopes) working on the problem means that that difference DOES make a difference in how long it is before your satellite is spotted (again).

Additional reading: Wired [wired.com]

Re:Paint it black? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22311846)

Why don't they all just paint their satellites black?

Because black paint absorbs heat. Satellites need to be temperature controlled, since certain electronics work quite a bit better when they're cold.

Re:Paint it black? / RF downlinks. (2, Interesting)

uhfsatcom (938169) | more than 6 years ago | (#22312216)

HI, Quite interesting re painting satellites black. If you look at some of the photos of the recent 'wideband gapfiller satellite', the satellite bus is mostly black. http://www.boeing.com/ids/news/2006/q3/060926b_pr.html [boeing.com] has a picture of the satellite in a frame prior to testing. If you look at it, you can see all the communications antennas are black. I'm not sure is this is painted for stealth reasons, or the antennas are made of carbon fiber. I'm sure this is only one example of many recent satellites that have been painted black.Either way, painting a satellite would only solve a small amount of the problem, since pretty much all satellites carry an RF payload which transmits data back to earth, they can be detected this way if they cannot be seen. The article mentions the 'seesat' group which does visual obs, but a parallel group 'hearsat' works with the RF downlinks, identifying satellites purely by their RF fingerprints. In fact several satellites have been detected at RF, orbits computed which were then passed on to the 'seesat' folks for visual confirmation. There are a few sites that you can check out if you are interested in the RF Aspects of satellite detection, www.hearsat.org, www.satellitenwelt.de and www.uhf-satcom.com being just a few.

Re:Paint it black? (1)

students (763488) | more than 6 years ago | (#22312434)

A satellite that is black in visible light will still show up on a radar.

RIAA: Re:Paint it black? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22314640)

Why don't they all just paint their satellites black?
The obvious solution of 'Paint it Black' is copyright (c) the RIAA and they will sue the spy agencies asses into oblivion if it's used.

Re:Paint it black? (1)

tqft (619476) | more than 6 years ago | (#22316414)

Because The Rolling Stones have exercised their intellectual property rights over the concept of painting anything black and the US military couldn't offer enough cash to get the Mick & Keith to pay attention.

Ding! (1)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 6 years ago | (#22319320)

You win the cookie for the reference. :)

Spy Satellites and Space Shuttle Crossrange (5, Interesting)

bitrex (859228) | more than 6 years ago | (#22311858)

An interesting fact I learned listening to some of the MIT lectures available online about the history and development of the Shuttle: One of the military requirements of the Shuttle was that it had at least 1400 miles crossrange. This was so for example, in a time of crisis (the shuttle was designed during the Cold War after all), the Shuttle could be launched from Vandenberg AFB into a polar orbit, immediately drop a spy satellite into orbit on the first go around (to prevent an enemy from learning the projected orbital path of the spy satellite by tracking the shuttle through multiple orbits), and then come right back to land on the west coast. Of course the earth would have rotated eastwards during that 90 minute orbit, so the shuttle needed the crossrange to be able to also glide eastwards and make a landing. Some original designs showed the shuttle having straight wings; apparently one of the major reasons NASA went with a delta-wing configuration was to meet the crossrange requirement.

Re:Spy Satellites and Space Shuttle Crossrange (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22313912)

And after the Challenger disaster, the US military stopped relying on the space shuttle for launching spy satellites. Could have saved all that grief on the drawing board...

Take that, CIA! (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 6 years ago | (#22313510)

Hah! Your pathetic plan to down the site using the old "Slashdotting" DDoS attack has failed. Now your secrets are available to the whole world!

Bwahahahahahahahaha!

HAL.

Registration Required (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22313734)

Useless.

You're no fun anymore. (1)

niktemadur (793971) | more than 6 years ago | (#22317970)

- A dromedary has one hump, while a camel has a high-gain antenna, transponder and solar panel array.
- Aren't you, in fact, a satellite trainspotter?

You're no fun anymore.

- Now look here, if anybody else pinches my phrase, I'll blast them in a suborbital trajectory under a camel.
- If you can spot one (snickers).
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