If I recall the details correctly, there have been observations recently of another NRO satellite in a geostationary orbit above the middle east and west Asia, that apparently can maneuver and reposition itself.
And if I'm still not mistaken (may have been a different satellite) it was confirmed that this satellite had extraordinarily high communications bandwidth and was speculated to be used either for SIGINT or for operating UAVs.
Anyone interested in it, other classified satellites and classified things on the map in general should look up Trevor Paglen. He's a Geographer who's recently begun taking pretty spectacular shots of classified satellites.
I recommend it! Especially for a saturday chill out noon ;)
I especially like how the CCC crowd slowly realizes why a photographer/artist would be talking at this conf at all. There's definitely a "ho shit, that guy ain't playing" moment there.
He did not make that claim out of thin air, but produced documents that were publicly available.
The New Yorker provided more details on this topic in a piece they did on Paglen:
"More than fifteen hundred documents were made public in the case: invoices, e-mails, cell-phone logs, receipts. These contained financial data—a typical rendition itinerary seems to have cost the government about three hundred thousand dollars—and structural details of the rendition program."
The article also notes that he is recognized by other journalists for his work on renditions.
Given that the recently launched civillian satellite Viasat-2 has a bandwidth of 300Gb/s and a reported expected latency of about 25ms, its not hard to imagine that a classified satellite like this may have crazy high bandwidth and low latency, perfect for reconnaissance, SIGNINT or operating UAVs.
EDIT: Haven’t found the source. I did find that the existing ViaSat-1 latency (on Exede, and actual ping times not satellite->ground latency) is 600 to 700ms, so that’s roughly in line with what you said. Exede do a bunch of latency compensation where they can so people often report lower latency, but for eg online games that obviously won’t work.
I also know that what I read before was specific to airplane in-flight internet, although I doubt commercial flight altitude make any difference to latency, so that’s likely an irrelevant point.
Edit: unless you're doing sigint in something very fast, like a missile launch.
"Active SIGINT" really only applies to CNE and not the traditional COMINT where MITM is used for translation and interpretation. In which case latency does matter, but not on the order of ms.
unless you're doing sigint in something very fast, like a missile launch.
That's FISINT/ELINT/MASINT though and has a completely different PED chain. Almost 100% automated.
Source: I use them both at work.
If it was meant to be observed, and if it was intentional, and if it was nearly "danger close", couldn't this suggest that USA 276 is a platform in development not just to deploy sensors for observation but perhaps to, in the future host systems for engaging and destroying satellites.
If you can get close to a satellite however, you can take photo's from up close or from arbitrary angles. Spy agencies might be very interested in this. You could conceivably also put in inside your cargo bay and bring it back to the surface for 'disassembly', though its owners would probably be unhappy about that.