Celebrating 50 years of being secretive
Observers confirm identity of last week's Atlas payload
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: April 18, 2011
The National Reconnaissance Office has successfully deployed vital
replacement spacecraft over the past seven months to rejuvenate nearly all of its satellite constellations,
most recently putting an ocean surveillance duo into orbit last week.
While celebrating its 50th anniversary, the secretive government agency responsible for designing and operating the U.S. fleet of spy satellites conducted this remarkable launch surge in a tightly packed timeframe using Atlas 5, Delta 4-Medium and -Heavy rockets, plus the light Minotaur 1 vehicle.
Beginning on Sept. 20, an Atlas-501 rocket roared from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying the first in a new-generation of radar imaging satellites that follow the heritage Lacrosse program.
Next came the "largest satellite in the world" atop a Delta 4-Heavy rocket on Nov. 21 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This eavesdropping bird has a gigantic antenna for gathering signals intelligence.
Another Delta 4-Heavy rocket, this time launching from Vandenberg, flew on Jan. 20 with the crucial new Keyhole spacecraft for the nation's sophisticated electro-optical imaging system.
An experimental research and development payload for the Rapid Pathfinder Program was shot into space by the Minotaur 1 on Feb. 6 from Vandenberg.
Then, a Delta 4-Medium+4,2 launcher with a Satellite Data System bird to relay communications between the reconnaissance spacecraft and ground stations was sent aloft from Florida on March 11.
The capper occurred last Thursday when two satellites were launched together atop an Atlas 5-411 rocket from Vandenberg to refresh the Naval Ocean Surveillance System, or NOSS.
Satellite-tracking hobbyists reported spotting the formation-flying craft and confirmed them with further observations Monday night.
"NOSS satellites track ships at sea through their radio transmissions.
The first two generations, launched between 1976 and 1996,
consisted of several triplets that orbited in close formation.
Analysis of the difference in time of arrival of a signal at each member
of a triplet enabled determination of the location of the source.
Third generation NOSS accomplish the same using pairs of satellites," said Ted Molczan, a satellite-tracking hobbyist.
The one last week shook the windows pretty good. It was a nice clear night, you could see that thing go for miles.
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This is all Greek to me....
Tired of being a tackling dummy......