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Space Spotters Track Secret Satellites 110

Posted by Zonk
from the better-than-sweeps-week dept.
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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Space Spotters Track Secret Satellites

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  • by BWJones (18351) * on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @01:43PM (#22308978) Homepage Journal
    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] .

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @02:01PM (#22309296) Journal

      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.
      • by mrxak (727974) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @02:12PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by BWJones (18351) *
          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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jericho4.0 (565125)
        "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.

  • by KublaiKhan (522918) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @01:46PM (#22309028) Homepage Journal
    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...
    • by gardyloo (512791)
      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.
      • by KublaiKhan (522918) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @02:01PM (#22309300) Homepage Journal
        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.
        • by barzok (26681)
          Except that it would be obvious in the regularity of its orbit and lack of a "tumble.
          • by KublaiKhan (522918) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @03:14PM (#22310432) Homepage Journal
            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.
            • 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
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Jarjarthejedi (996957)
                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...
            • by tomhath (637240)
              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: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Dusty101 (765661)
          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]
    • 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.
    • 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].

    • by jswatz (99824)
      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? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rmadmin (532701) <{gro.edocemoh} {ta} {kelamr}> on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @01:48PM (#22309070) Homepage
    If you look at the satobs site, it hasn't been updated since 2004. WTF?
    • by iocat (572367)
      I was expecting some sneaky, Lone Gunman type site, but it was just, you know... nerds.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rholland356 (466635)
      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: (Score:3, Funny)

        by somersault (912633)
        Yep, the information would be highly useful to terrorists - they could probably shoot down the satellites with their AKs!
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by rholland356 (466635)

          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, g

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by somersault (912633)
            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.
      • by Gospodin (547743)

        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?

  • by arkham6 (24514) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @01:49PM (#22309080)
    to these people that they need to get out more, but it appears they already do.

    • 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 se
  • by iknownuttin (1099999) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @01:52PM (#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.

    • by nasor (690345)
      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.
      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @02:20PM (#22309570) Homepage
        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.
        • by dpilot (134227)
          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 cours
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by repapetilto (1219852)
        a six-pack split three ways? cmon man
    • by 32771 (906153) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @02:52PM (#22310064) Journal
      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.

    • 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
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        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

      • by Legion303 (97901)
        "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.
    • by gr8scot (1172435)

      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.
    • The govt humanoids in response will look for those whose eyes 'wander too much' in their effort to thwart 'human cameras'. It's part and parcel of behavioral profiling. For all of you (dis)ability rigths folks out there, imagine a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome and/or other disorders involving enhanced memory/recall abilities landing people on the no-fly list. This [ would be | is ] done with the understanding that if one is capable of malicious use of an ability, assume so and let 'due process' prove other
  • by Bazzargh (39195) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @01:56PM (#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: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      http://www.heavens-above.com/ [heavens-above.com] also has a great tracking site for this Satellite (requires free registration).
      • by StarfishOne (756076) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @03:08PM (#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!

        • by Chris Burke (6130)
          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 visib
    • 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!??
  • by Anonymous Coward
  • Active camouflage.
  • In soviet Russia: Spy satellites track hidden satellite spotters... wait...
  • Good Web Site (Score:2, Informative)

    I'm a big fan of Heavens Above, http://www.heavens-above.com/ [heavens-above.com]
  • Obligatory (Score:1, Funny)

    by TurinPT (1226568)
    1995 called. They want that website back.
  • Nothing to see here - this gets reported on Slashdot about once a month. Move along.
  • weren't the size of a small bus, they'd be harder to spot?
    • by deft (253558)
      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. :)
  • 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.
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @02:59PM (#22310164) Homepage
      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.
    • by EQ (28372) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @04:44PM (#22312004) Homepage Journal
      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.
      • by Knara (9377)

        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.

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        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.
        • by rush242 (1194311)
          Doc Paranoid, you probably could have just said, "you win, EQ, I concede."

          At least he presented his reasoning. You just present your own self-serving conclusions as if they are self-evident.
          • by Doc Ruby (173196)
            Their "reasoning" consists of calling me paranoid, and denying that nuke powered satellites would ever be launched because of physics and engineering problems, and the superiority of solar alternatives.

            So I showed not only cases where nukes would be used because solar isn't good enough, but actual examples of nuke satellites already used.

            So what if you nuke fetishists cannot even bother to read the simple reasons that debunk your absolute assertions. You're incurable. But at least you are quickly and easily
            • by rush242 (1194311)
              Hey, should I reply to this post the same way you did? With "Blah, blah, blah" as if that actually conveys reasoning? I mean, you did it, so it must be effective, right?

              "Their 'reasoning' consists of calling me paranoid, and denying that nuke powered satellites would ever be launched because of physics and engineering problems, and the superiority of solar alternatives."

              No, wrong. Again. He was illustrating why there are a LOT of costs involved with nukes. He didn't "deny that nuke powered satellites
              • by Doc Ruby (173196)
                Their post called me "paranoid" and then went on as if it had an airtight case against nuke satellites existing. If that's not their implication, then what's the point of their argument?

                So I responded in kind with "blah blah blah". So what? That's the level of respect they invoked, so they got it. What matters is that I completely countered their argument denying nuke satellites with facts and logic.

                And if their argument wasn't that there are no nuke satellites, so what? What are they saying? It doesn't mat
                • by rush242 (1194311)
                  "Their post called me "paranoid" and then went on as if it had an airtight case against nuke satellites existing. If that's not their implication, then what's the point of their argument?"

                  Again: He wasn't making an air tight case against nuke satellites existing. His point was clear, and he stated it explicitly, "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 enginee
    • by blueg3 (192743)
      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.
      • by mmontour (2208)

        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).
        • 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.
          • by mmontour (2208)

            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.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        Does your knowledge include classified info about these satellites? Because that'e exactly what I'm talking about.
  • They can use it to change the positions of the sats for more than a decade.
  • c'mon, you're giving tin-foil wearers and right-wing wing-nuts a bad name here.
  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @03:23PM (#22310638)
    Say that three times real fast and you're admitted to the Satellite Stalkers club.
  • by maillemaker (924053) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @03:33PM (#22310794)
    Why don't they all just paint their satellites black?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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
      • 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 i
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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.

    • 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
    • by students (763488)
      A satellite that is black in visible light will still show up on a radar.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      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.
    • by tqft (619476)
      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.
  • by bitrex (859228) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @04:34PM (#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.
    • Where can one find pictures of the straight-wing shuttle designs? I've never heard this argument.
  • 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.

  • - 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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