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Analysis of the Nahid-1/Safir launch failure satellite image (github.com)
156 points by bb88 49 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments



Very interesting analysis!

For more context: https://www.npr.org/2019/08/30/755994591/president-trump-twe...


Combining the height of 382km from the notebook with the supposed resolution of 20 cm from that link gives an angular resolution of 0.00003 degrees [1]. That is about 2.5 * the angular resolution of the Hubble telescope. However, as that article notes, this image was taken through atmosphere.

I don't know much about telescopes, but some googling seemed to reveal earth based telescopes with similar resolutions. Hence, it seems within the range of possibility.

[1] https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=20cm+%2F+382+km+radian...


The interesting thing you can derive is what the lower bound is on the diameter of the imaging system via the diffraction limit. I get about 1 meter (but have fat fingers and sleep deprivation). Which is big, but not crazy big.

Edit. 224 is supposed to be a variation of this guy [1], which has a 2.4 metre mirror (which should be more like 7cm on the ground).

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KH-11_Kennen


Does that 7cm figure include the effects of atmospheric dispersion?


That is the minimum possible resolution* (hence the lower bound on the diameter). Atmospheric stuff will make it worse and be variable from day to day (and depends on the length of the exposure, which would be a bigger problem looking at stars than the earth). I think that is around 2 microradians for astronomical telescopes.

*there are tricks to get super-resolution, but ignore that stuff.


From the wiki article:

orbital altitude of 250 km corresponds to a ground sample distance of 0.06 m (6 cm, 2.4 inches). Operational resolution should be worse due to effects of the atmospheric turbulence.[34] Astronomer Clifford Stoll estimates that such a telescope could resolve up to "a couple inches. Not quite good enough to recognize a face"


Lockheed famously hires a lot of adaptive optics people for "god knows what."

I think the answer is obvious now.

I want to add that usa-224 flies at a remarkably high altitude for a spy sat, and certainly higher than previous gen sats with perigees below 250km


More discussion on the author's Twitter feed.

https://twitter.com/cgbassa


Any Farsi literate readers here? What's the writing on the concrete circle at the bottom say?

Edit: Argh, it's in the article..."The product of national empowerment". Interested though, if that's accurate or has alternate interpretations. Seems intended to be read by spy satellites...


> Seems intended to be read by spy satellites...

That seems like a stretch. If it was meant for spy satellites wouldn't it be in English and have a message that's a little less generic?


This is a common observation in Iran, specially regarding governmental activities. The whole country is littered with ads and propaganda.


I'll bite. What other reason for such huge letters facing upwards? Based on the trucks, they are 1-2 meters high.


Launches are often filmed from aircraft for promotional purposes. So yes, they are probably intended to be read from above, just nothing so drastic as spy sats.


Just like the X in the SpaceX landing pads https://www.google.com/search?q=spacex+landing+pad&tbm=isch


They also had the drone ship names around the landing circle in the earlier days. Seems pretty much to be the same point.


Wikipedia article on USA-224: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USA-224


“USA-224 - the first of these two - was completed by Lockheed US$ 2 billion under the initial budget estimate, and two years ahead of schedule”

That’s impressive.


Depends if the initial budget and schedule were accurate, or massively padded.

Under promise, over deliver.


Sure, but have you ever heard of a procurement project where this happened? At least to me it seems that you always hear delays and cost overruns of the type of F35, Zumwalt, Osprey. The usual explanation is that this is the natural outcome of a cost-plus modus operandi. How can a multi-billion project end up 2 billion below budget and 2 years ahead of schedule. We are talking about the same manufacturer that brought us the F-35 after all...


My experience with highway construction is that a lot depends on the highway inspectors (who are employed by the highway department, not by the firm doing the construction). If they're lazy the highway will seem fine on day one, but will be quite rough within a year. If they're diligent it will remain smooth for a long time.

So, it seems possible that the military bureaucracy doesn't do a very good job of supervising the work done by armaments manufacturers, while the spy-satellite bureaucracy does an admirable job. I'm surprised!


Does it make the news when a project is on time and budget?


Well done! It would be interesting to look at the angle and length of the shadow of one of those towers to estimate the time of day the picture has been taken and verify the hypothesis that the picture has been taken around 09:44UTC


Here's a good associated reddit comment analyzing the resolution of the satellite.

https://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/cxmfjd/president_...

https://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/cxmfjd/president_...

tldr; potentially 15-20cm resolution taken on this angle. And if it's the KH-11 (or later advanced kennen/kh-12), it is the first image since 1984 (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/20/Janeskh1...)


It sounds like, from the description of the previous image and non-classified information about KH-11 such as that released when two surplus satellites were released to NASA for possible conversion to telescopes, this pretty much just matches up with what we already knew about its capabilities. If amateur satellite-watchers hadn't already figured out this was a Keyhole satellite and tracked its orbit closely this might have given that away and helped Iran stage their launches to avoid its watchful eyes, but as it is I don't think any great secrets are being revealed here.


OK. I have what is possibly a dumb question, but why is it even possible to connect to the open internet, much less send a tweet, from what I assume is supposed to be a SCIF or some similarly secure room?

Surely the answer can't be that no one ever considered a sitting President would expose classified intelligence just to shitpost on Iran?


That’s exactly what the answer is, unfortunately. Nobody ever thought things could get this stupid. As an American and as someone who’s had to deal with classified materials, this really sucks.


> but why is it even possible to connect to the open internet, much less send a tweet, from what I assume is supposed to be a SCIF or some similarly secure room?

Just curious, how do you know this was tweeted from a SCIF?


I don't actually know, I just assume any classified briefing like this has to take place in a SCIF or someplace at least shielded from RF leakage. I may be naive, though.


I'm not sure this is true. As the president is the original authority for classified information, he can probably ask for classified briefings in non classified areas or terminals.


I was wondering, as I thought it was something in one of the other article that I had missed. But yeah that would be pretty serious if it was the case.


More, including technical history of Iran's satellite program:

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2019/08/31/...


Lucky for them the satellite (Nahid-1) was not loaded at the time of the incident (which likely happened during fueling), and is in a lab ready for another launch.


I’m actually all for it. I don’t think it would be a big deal if unarmed Iranian drones are flying above US airspace zone or above the orbit high enough to consider it being outside of what atmosphere is considered. I mean US drones fly above Afgqnistan skies all the time and they are even armed, so I don’t see a problem so long as its done on some common agreed rules.


For everyone down voting this framework already exists as the Treaty on Open Skies. It was finalized in 1989, but started as a mutual agreement between NATO and the USSR.


Yeah, it appears that Iran is the country not wanting in on this one. Go figure.


What’s the deal here? Is this a case of US high tech sabotage (like the famous stuxnet) and Trump making a joke about it on Twitter?


The fact that this reveals something about the optical surveillance capabilities of the US. And notably, the fact that a sitting president is sharing this (sensitive) information on twitter for apparently non-strategic goals.


The shadow Trump and his cellphone are casting on the image is the best part. Guess nobody had the balls to tell him pictures aren't allowed in a briefing of this nature?


The top left portion of the image is redacted. Which suggests it was cleared for publishing.

Lots of people saying this was not a good move by the USA to publish this image. But why? Yes, it's a fascinating image. But these high resolution capabilities are pretty well known and expected...


That someone might have, in a hurry, tried to crop a picture of a picture doesn't mean this was the plan.


I think it is mostly people jumping on the bandwagon of 'trump bad'. That is, the news here is not the secret info revealed, but that trump revealed secret info.


Why do you think it isn't a problem that Trump revealed secret info?


Whether or not what he released was considered sensitive is jumping the gun. Everyone is just assuming that. It features none of the more advanced IMINT tools that the US possesses.

This is just a picture of the ground. I would be very surprised if the image by itself were classified. It may have been part of a classified intelligence package, but by itself this image does not seem sensitive.


I do think that Trump is a problem. His treatment of classified material is a good indicator of that. It's just that, in this case, the classified material is not very revealing.

I do think people are exaggerating how bad this leak is to make it worse that Trump leaked it.

And really, we should not be blowing Trump mistakes up. Because when he really does do something horrible, we need the other side with us. If we keep blowing things out of proportion, the other side will just be pushed into immediately dismissing us every time.


>It's just that, in this case, the classified material is not very revealing.

It reveals that we were monitoring the launch, either by violating Iranian airspace with a drone, or with a satellite whose optical capabilities appear to be worthy of discussion.

It also reveals the likely position and identity of that satellite, which reveals likely other candidates for American spy satellites.

>I do think people are exaggerating how bad this leak is to make it worse that Trump leaked it.

The fact that he tweeted slides from a classified intelligence briefing is already very bad. The fact that his justification amounts to "I had the right to, so I did" is very bad. It shouldn't even matter whether the material leaked is "revealing." Do you think Trump actually cares?

FFS, people wanted Hillary Clinton sent to the electric chair for treason for far less.

>If we keep blowing things out of proportion, the other side will just be pushed into immediately dismissing us every time.

The other side is composed of people like yourself willing to dismiss any degree of outrage or anger at Trump as simply "jumping on the bandwagon of 'trump bad'." They already immediately dismiss us every time.

But... and I say this irrespective politics... Trump is bad.

That's not liberal or Democratic sour grapes, or panic from the deep state or leftist media establishment desperate to stop Trump from disrupting the status quo, that's not jumping on a bandwagon because he's politically incorrect and the country is full of SJWs clutching their pearls at the sight of a man who tells it like it is. It's literal, documented, established, objective truth at this point. Donald Trump is not a good person. He's not a good Republican. He's not a good Conservative. He's not a good President.

Even if you support his populist agenda, wear a MAGA hat with pride, and would bring your own hammer to build the damned wall yourself if you could, it should be obvious at this point that continuing to support Trump is a fool's errand. Anyone still drinking the Trump Kool-Aid has clearly gotten to the poison and it's eaten their brains away.


The position and identity of all satellites is already public knowledge. It's impossible to hide for long in orbit. It's the satellite capabilities that are classified.


>It's the satellite capabilities that are classified.

Welp... now the world knows the satellite's capabilities and that said satellite was probably USA-244[0].

[0]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USA-224


All the amateur satellite watchers have known that this is USA-224 and that it's a Keyhole imaging satellite pretty much since it launched, along with its exact orbit and a good idea of its imaging capabilities. That's how everyone managed to figure out how this was taken so quickly. Officially this is all highly classified, but in reality it's been public knowledge for quite a while.


> The other side is composed of people like yourself willing to dismiss any degree of outrage or anger at Trump as simply "jumping on the bandwagon of 'trump bad'." They already immediately dismiss us every time.

Firstly, I'd like to emphasize the following. I want trump out of the presidents office. My point here is not that trump isn't that bad. My point here is that we should try to avoid the "We've got him" moments. Moreover, we really should avoid playing up issues to make those moments more effective.

If we are going to get rid of trump, we will need to affect people on the other side. As such, lets assume the other side is open to reason. We want to make the argument as effective on them as possible. Bombarding them with many stories, some of which don't quite hold up when, does not help us convince them.

Such performances might help us feel better, it might make us feel like we are helping by exposing how bad trump is. But that is essentially preaching to the quire. We need a focus on things that are actually immensely bad, and not politically disputed. 'Grab em by the pussy', setting up concentration camps for foreigners, that kind of stuff.

> Even if you support his populist agenda, wear a MAGA hat with pride, and would bring your own hammer to build the damned wall yourself if you could, it should be obvious at this point that continuing to support Trump is a fool's errand.

Lets make it easier for these people. People don't easily change their views when challenged by facts. If there are mitigating circumstances, they grab on to them. So we need to point out things without any mitigating circumstances. Things like I mentioned above. Besides that, we should keep up on the bad stuff, rather than moving on when a few days of the bad stuff doesn't seem to change any minds. Then again, staying with old stuff isn't "news".


We'll have to agree to disagree about how bad this particular incident is. I don't think it's a "gotcha" moment, I think it rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.


> The top left portion of the image is redacted. Which suggests it was cleared for publishing.

That's a rather peculiar interpretation that begs new questions, given that it was an image that was shown to POTUS in a briefing. Why would his briefings use the cleared/redacted imagery and/or information? Is the IC redacting information from presidential briefings? And if so, why such a remarkable change? It's not as if the briefers expected Trump to be the one to actually publish the image; you'd hand the redacted materials off to the communications team(s) to publish as part of whatever messaging strategy was decided on.

> Lots of people saying this was not a good move by the USA to publish this image. But why? Yes, it's a fascinating image. But these high resolution capabilities are pretty well known and expected...

There are a couple of alarming concerns. First, it's confirmation of imaging capabilities, the satellite that was used to capture it, and can be used to extrapolate a lot of information about its tasking. Analysts can pull a lot of unexpected insights from something like this. Even when some of those insights (or at least the top-level ones) are "well known and expected," confirmation of those expectations is something altogether different and can have far-reaching implications. It lets them go back through previous information, sources, etc. and revise previous conclusions in light of that confirmation. What might confirmation of this satellite's capabilities and purpose mean about other satellites, based on other information foreign intelligence services already have? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps a great deal. We don't know, because we don't know what information they already have.

Second, what does this say about the current president and his handling of intelligence data? This isn't the first time Trump has apparently mishandled classified information and then defended himself by saying he has an "absolute right" to declassify information however he wants to. It's--arguably--the fourth known instance[0]. If you're an allied intelligence service, that's kind of terrifying and could have a chilling effect on cooperation. We also now know he's got one of his regular phones[1] with him during at least some of his briefings, and that he managed to take a photo during at least one of them. Plus, if staffers are routinely redacting information they show to Trump--if that's what this image is--that sends yet another very scary message about trustworthiness.

Politics aside, there are a lot of reasons why this is alarming to people.

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Trump%27s_disclosures_o...

1. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/21/trump-phone-securi...


Presidents can unilaterally declassify information if they wish. They typically delegate that power to directors, but he can do it as well. And there is no requirement that they be formal about it.




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