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Close encounters of the classified kind (thespacereview.com)
213 points by quakeguy 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

Very interesting.

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.

Concerning Trevor Paglen ( http://www.paglen.com ), he also gave a great speach at CCC30, "Seeing the secret state six landscapes"


I recommend it! Especially for a saturday chill out noon ;)

Thank you (and GP) for the Paglen reference, I remember watching this talk but could not find it again afterward. Now bookmarked.

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.

I was there, and that was exactly how most of the audience did react after 15 min. into his talk.

Many people need to watch this. It reformatted much of my belief system in a disruptive way. That guy is something else.

Can you summarise this for those of us who haven't watched the video?

Summarize how it changed my belief system (or gave it a dent)? Or summarize the video? Ok, here's a summary: the video is just one of the most watchable things I've come across.

The changes to your belief system.

The guy thinks a CIA front company got sued and then provided documents during discovery that revealed covert operations.

That is incorrect. He first mentions CIA fronts, but then goes on to discuss real companies that occasionally do business with the CIA 'on the side'. Two of these (Sportsflight and Richmor) sued each others on activities that happened to be tied to the CIA.

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."

Source: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/22/prying-eyes

The article also notes that he is recognized by other journalists for his work on renditions.

> it was confirmed that this satellite had extraordinarily high communications bandwidth and was speculated to be used either for SIGINT or for operating UAVs.

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.

Not sure where you got the 25ms number from. Viasat-2 is in geostationary orbit at 35000km. The roundtrip speed of light delay alone is 240ms.

I’ll try to find the source. I guess it must have been mistaken given what you said.

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.

SpaceX's proposed satellites will be LEO, allowing for low latency.

Passive sigint doesn't care about latency. Any sigint capabilities here involve man in the middle.

Edit: unless you're doing sigint in something very fast, like a missile launch.

Passive sigint doesn't care about latency

"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.

I was thinking for something like real-time UAV control, but yeah I guess you’re right that for most use cases latency may not be important.

Sounds like you could be talking about PAN. Here's an article by the same author:


Yes! That was it, thank you!

A test and demo of capabilities such that Russians and Chinese notice is the most plausible explanation I'd guess. Not sure if they cared if amateurs noticed or not.

It's impossible to hide anything in leo from Russians or Chinese. They have their own radar and telescope surveillance networks. They always notice.

Stealth satellites aren't impossible given that all the tech has already been developed for Earthbound use, and unlike aircraft you only have to make the Earth-facing side stealthy.

How do you make the stealth satellite not block star light as it passive in front of them from the perspective of a ground based observer?

What about the solar arrays? You are always going to be reflecting sunlight somewhere.

Anyone know what software they use to do the Vimeo video in that article? I've been wondering for a while, when I've seen videos like that...

Often either STK (expensive, but there is a free version) or CNES VTS (free)

Source: I use them both at work.




Allow me to don a shiny new cap of quality Reynolds aluminum foil and say this.

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.

Wouldn't its unusual orbit make it less than optimal for intercepting other satellites?

If it was just demonstrating the capability, I would think they could always launch more into more appropriate orbits. I almost think they chose the ISS just to make sure all relevant parties were watching, since it is probably always being closely monitored.

Would there be a necessity to get close to a satellite to destroy it? Some sort of rocket could be launched from quite far away without needing much fuel if it was already in a similar orbit.

No need for such a complex solution, the Chinese just launch a missile from the ground: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Chinese_anti-satellite_...

So do the Americans: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Burnt_Frost .

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.

You mean like they did with the space shuttle? :)

To have plausible deniability, yes. Maybe they don't wish to destroy it as much as damage it using a laser or they have some way of pushing it out of its orbit or causing it to go out of control. Say the US attack satellite was 20km away and could attack and damage another satellite. Blame could not then be attributed back to the US, right?

Reynolds has been a CIA front for decades. Wake up!

Typical FUD from an obvious shill account for Saran Wrap.

Hope it is not too late but the aluminum foil meme was a Department Psi op. Interestingly enough it was Russian (well Soviet) researchers that showed that aluminum in fact enhances susceptibility in the remote subjects.

Huh, I thought that orbit details of all satellites was tracked. If not, collisions probably become much more of an issue.

They are. Not everything is published. In US tracking is done by military, not NASA.

In North Dakota, at Concrete.

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