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US Launches Largest Spy Satellite Ever 213

Posted by Soulskill
from the technically-not-in-the-world dept.
Ponca City, We Love You writes "Space.com reports that over the weekend, a giant booster – a Delta 4 Heavy rocket — carrying a secret new spy satellite for the US National Reconnaissance Office roared into space to deliver into orbit what one reconnaissance official has touted as 'the largest satellite in the world.' The Delta 4 Heavy rocket is the biggest unmanned rocket currently in service and has 2 million pounds of thrust, capable of launching payloads of up to 24 tons to low-Earth orbit and 11 tons toward the geosynchronous orbits used by communications satellites. The mammoth vehicle is created by taking three Common Booster Cores — the liquid hydrogen-fueled motor that forms a Delta 4-Medium's first stage — and strapping them together to form a triple-barrel rocket, and then adding an upper stage. The exact purpose of the new spy satellite NROL-32 is secret, but is widely believed to be an essential eavesdropping spacecraft that requires the powerful lift provided by the Delta 4-Heavy to reach its listening post. 'I believe the payload is the fifth in the series of what we call Mentor spacecraft, a.k.a. Advanced Orion, which gather signals intelligence from inclined geosynchronous orbits,' says Ted Molczan, a respected sky-watcher who keeps tabs on orbiting spacecraft. Earlier models of the series included an unfurling dish structure about 255 feet in diameter with a total spacecraft mass of about 5,953.5 pounds, costing about $750 million and designed to monitor specific points or objects of interest such as ballistic missile flight test telemetry."
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US Launches Largest Spy Satellite Ever

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  • by dmomo (256005) on Monday November 22, 2010 @02:35PM (#34309330) Homepage

    That's no Moon.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by davester666 (731373)

      ...that's my stash of CHEESE!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, 2010 @03:16PM (#34309832)

      It amazes me that so many allegedly "educated" people have fallen so quickly and so hard for a fraudulent fabrication of such laughable proportions. The very idea that a gigantic ball of rock happens to orbit our planet, showing itself in neat, four-week cycles -- with the same side facing us all the time -- is ludicrous. Furthermore, it is an insult to common sense and a damnable affront to intellectual honesty and integrity. That people actually believe it is evidence that the liberals have wrested the last vestiges of control of our public school system from decent, God-fearing Americans (as if any further evidence was needed! Daddy's Roommate? God Almighty!)

      Documentaries such as Enemy of the State have accurately portrayed the elaborate, byzantine network of surveillance satellites that the liberals have sent into space to spy on law-abiding Americans. Equipped with technology developed by Handgun Control, Inc., these satellites have the ability to detect firearms from hundreds of kilometers up. That's right, neighbors .. the next time you're out in the backyard exercising your Second Amendment rights, the liberals will see it! These satellites are sensitive enough to tell the difference between a Colt .45 and a .38 Special! And when they detect you with a firearm, their computers cross-reference the address to figure out your name, and then an enormous database housed at Berkeley is updated with information about you.

      Of course, this all works fine during the day, but what about at night? Even the liberals can't control the rotation of the Earth to prevent nightfall from setting in (only Joshua was able to ask for that particular favor!) That's where the "moon" comes in. Powered by nuclear reactors, the "moon" is nothing more than an enormous balloon, emitting trillions of candlepower of gun-revealing light. Piloted by key members of the liberal community, the "moon" is strategically moved across the country, pointing out those who dare to make use of their God-given rights at night!

      Yes, I know this probably sounds paranoid and preposterous, but consider this. Despite what the revisionist historians tell you, there is no mention of the "moon" anywhere in literature or historical documents -- anywhere -- before 1950. That is when it was initially launched. When President Josef Kennedy, at the State of the Union address, proclaimed "We choose to go to the moon", he may as well have said "We choose to go to the weather balloon." The subsequent faking of a "moon" landing on national TV was the first step in a long history of the erosion of our constitutional rights by leftists in this country. No longer can we hide from our government when the sun goes down.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Your bizarre parody (and yes, I loved it) falls down on two major points -- the moon is in fact mentioned in texts older than fifty years (one, the Bible is about 5,000 years old), and my parents were both alive during the Great Depression. Had the oon suddenly appeared then, somebody would have noticed.

        Nice parody anyway.

        • by roc97007 (608802)

          Obviously there was a massive rewrite of history and some mind-altering drugs involved.

      • by grcumb (781340) on Monday November 22, 2010 @03:44PM (#34310152) Homepage Journal

        No longer can we hide from our government when the sun goes down.

        Apocryphal story, but worth telling:

        Back in the 1800s, a dignitary once asked a prominent Huron chief, "Do you know why the sun never sets on the British Empire?"

        The chief thought for a moment, then replied, "Because God doesn't trust your Queen in the dark."

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Article Posted by Soulskill on Monday November 22, @01:33PM.
      Death Star quote posted by dmomo on Monday November 22, @01:35PM.

      Two minutes? We're slipping.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      ... Moon.

      Well then you forgot to paint it a stealth color. It stands out like a silvery sore thumb on dreamy, steamy, romantic nights.

      • Actually, the moon is pretty much a stealth color - it's as reflective as well-worn pavement. The real issue is that it's just too big to hide.
  • Oops (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rakuen (1230808) on Monday November 22, 2010 @02:37PM (#34309348) Homepage
    The new secret spy satellite isn't much of a secret anymore...
    • Re:Oops (Score:5, Informative)

      by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday November 22, 2010 @03:18PM (#34309854) Homepage Journal

      Well it is hard to keep something 300 meters across in space a secret. Simple truth is that just about everybody that cared knew what type of satellite it was from the launch point and the launch vehicle. A friend of mine works on the Centaur and I saw him on Sunday. I asked how work was and he told me about the upcoming launch.
      It went like this.
      "Yeah it is going up on a Delta 4 heavy."
      "Really DOD?"
      "No NRO".

      If it is a Delta 4 heavy with a Centaur from the Cape you can bet money it is a sigint bird.
      The capabilities are what is secret. But it can probably pick up a cell phone or wifi for geosync.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rtb61 (674572)

        Hard to tell with the professionally paranoid, how do you know this one isn't designed to look out rather than in, something they are not likely to admit any time soon.

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        With a dish the size of a football field I wouldn't be surprised if it could read the scan line on a CRT. Think about that...

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by SETIGuy (33768)
          Got tired of all the speculation. The resolution of a 100m dish at geosynchronous orbit to 1GHz is 107km. At 10GHz it would be 10.7km. Both those numbers are significantly larger than a scan line. They are also large compared to the distance between cell phones and wifi stations in a suburb. They might be able to get the cell tower half of a conversation, or intercept long distance microwave links.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Idiomatick (976696)
      Even more confusing is why they are bragging that it is big. It is a piece of electronics!

      That be like a programmer bragging "I made a printer driver that was 4 GIGS, biggest print driver EVER!". Seriously, bragging about the size is retarded. Then they go on to brag at how awesome of a launch system they needed just to get it into space. Something like "The driver was so bloated people had to buy new computers just to install the driver!"

      On a related note, the city of Tokyo is REALLY big. It is such a bi
      • Don't worry, they'll get around to it eventually:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megazone_23 [wikipedia.org]

      • This is NOTHING!

        In old Soviet Union, we had five-year plan. Succeeded to build world's largest microchip! An achievement that stands yet, today and never it has been exceeded.

        • The IBM Power7 (567 square millimeters, 1.2 billion transistors) is ten times larger than the Soviet K1801VM3 microprocessor (52.6 square milimeters, 200 thousand transistors.)

      • Re:Oops (Score:5, Funny)

        by grcumb (781340) on Monday November 22, 2010 @03:49PM (#34310204) Homepage Journal

        That be like a programmer bragging "I made a printer driver that was 4 GIGS, biggest print driver EVER!".

        A 4 Gigabyte printer driver? Really? Please have your friend contact me immediately!

        Snidely Earnest
        HR Manager
        - Hewlett Packard

        • I really *hate* HP Officejet driver packages. Biggest pile-of-shit bloatware I've ever spent installing and troubleshooting. And the real killer, after having their TSR program suck up RAM? It's that they installed a fuckin Yahoo toolbar in IE without giving me an deselect option. DAMN YOU!!!

      • by timeOday (582209)
        But there are physical constraints on antennae and telescopes, relating to the wavelength of the signal and the directional accuracy required, that DO dictate specific size constraints.

        Ever wonder why cellphone cameras haven't displaced SLRs yet? It really does come down to the size of the sensor, and the size of the lens needed to gather energy for that sensor.

      • It's not a piece of electronics, it's a spacecraft. We have different expectations for spacecraft, although they tend to be based on mass rather than volume.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Its existance isn't a secret, but its purpose and workings are.

  • ...until it was successfully launched.
    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      I hope that's not a verbatim quote. He also overlooked the fact that Earth's Moon is a satellite and most likely larger than the spy satellite they launched (The ISS is also likely to be larger, and it too is a satellite.)

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Somewhat the other way around - it seems what the official talks about is the physical size of the antenna, deployed after launch (apparently around 100m). When it comes to mass it's apparently quite average, and nowhere near the top - that title certainly goes to the ISS... (yes, yes, "modular" - well, just one major ISS module launched by Proton or Shuttle, or ATV launched by Ariane (to use some examples related to ISS; there are other) is ~2x more)

      Also, heavy version of Atlas V is the biggest, for some

  • yet another nearly redundant cold war era satelite is now in orbit.
    • Re:more expense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by electrostatic (1185487) on Monday November 22, 2010 @03:09PM (#34309746)
      I'm am American who is proud of our technological superiority over the rest of the world. Meanwhile, every electronic or mechanical device with three or more parts that I own is made in China.
      • by c0lo (1497653)

        I'm am American who is proud of our technological superiority over the rest of the world.

        Was the pun intended?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Shakrai (717556)

        I'm am American who is proud of our technological superiority over the rest of the world.

        I'm an American who is proud of our technological ability but not naive enough to believe we have superiority. Sure, we do a lot of things really well (aerospace, computers, medicine) but other countries are ahead of us in certain areas. Russia builds some really amazing rockets and missiles that don't compare to anything in the West. There is no Western equivalent of Russia's supersonic anti-ship missiles. Or their 200 knot torpedoes.

        Anybody that doesn't think our enemies wouldn't have a few rude surp

  • by slowhand (191637) on Monday November 22, 2010 @02:40PM (#34309406)

    I like big boosters and I can not lie
    You other brothers can't deny
    That when a rocket flys in with an itty bitty thruster
    And a round thing in your face
    You get sprung, wanna pull out your tough
    'Cause you notice that booster was stuffed
    Deep in the propellant she's wearing
    I'm hooked and I can't stop staring
    Oh baby, I wanna get with you
    And take your picture
    My homeboys tried to warn me
    But that booster you got makes me so horny
    Ooh, Rump-o'-smooth-skin
    You say you wanna get in my Benz?
    Well, use me, use me
    'Cause you ain't that average groupie
    I've seen them dancin'
    To hell with romancin'
    She's sweat, wet,
    Got it goin' like a turbo 'Vette
    I'm tired of magazines
    Sayin' flat boosters are the thing
    Take the average black man and ask him that
    She gotta pack much back
    So, fellas! (Yeah!) Fellas! (Yeah!)
    Has your spacefriend got the booster? (Hell yeah!)
    Tell 'em to shake it! (Shake it!) Shake it! (Shake it!)
    Shake that healthy booster!
    Baby got back!

    • Up here in space
      I'm looking down on you.
      My lasers trace
      Everything you do.
      You think you've private lives
      Think nothing of the kind.
      There is no true escape
      I'm watching all the time.
      I'm made of metal
      My circuits gleam.
      I am perpetual
      I keep the country clean.
      I'm elected electric spy
      I'm protected electric eye.
      Always in focus
      You can't feel my stare.
      I zoom into you
      You don't know I'm there.
      I take a pride in probing all your secret moves
      My tearless retina takes pictures that can prove.
      I'm made of metal
      My circuits gleam

  • "We bought most of our satellites for three, five, or eight years, and we're keeping them on orbit for ten, twelve, and up to twenty years."

    Hmmm....I wonder what the human consequences of aging spy satellites providing erroneous information could be?

    And, does anyone know John Connor?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Brett Buck (811747)

      None. It either works, or it doesn't.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      The problem isn't erroneous information, its that the fuel runs low so they can't be retasked or have orbits boosted (in the case of LEO satellites) as often, power levels drop as the solar panels get older and they enter safe modes more often than they were designed for.

      The follow on satellite designs and programs were delayed and costs overran, thats why they are being used longer and longer.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        Also at GEO mere stationkeeping makes the fuel run low.

        • by lgw (121541)

          Older spy sats would expend lots of delta-v to fly in close to observe then adjust back to an orbit high enough to be stabile. I assume the recent ones simply correct for atmospheric turbulance and get perfect pictures from GEO (couple of technologies for that these days), so they don't eat all their fuel in 3 years.

  • crappy site (Score:2, Informative)

    by callmebill (1917294)
    Crappy TFA site sports pernicious popups.
  • March 14, 2011: NASA confirmed today that it's launching a new Discovery mission headed for the failed NROL-32. Once hailed as the largest satellite ever, with an unknown purpose, it has since been branded the 'largest scrap in space' with no known usefulness. National Reconnaissance confirmed earlier this week that the NROL wasn't even a spy satellite, instead its purpose was to collect packets from personal wifi networks and save them for future analysis. "We still think this is important work to be done"
  • But will it find Bin Laden?

    Of course even if they did find him it wouldn't stop the terrorism.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But will it find Bin Laden?

      No. It is intended to spy on US citizens. Have you been following American news for the past few years? Don't worry though. If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.

      • "Wrong" may or may not include the following activities: breathing, eating or sleeping.

      • Actually, all Mentor's previous to this one were and are positioned at longitudes covering West Asia and Africa. They do not cover US territory so far. We have reasons to believe this new one will not either.
        • by sznupi (719324)

          Whole of Asia, basically. And one was moved to a place apparently suited to covering western part of the EU, hm...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR (28044)

      Actually it might. This is a sigint/comint bird. Not really much of leak since it is a big honking satellite on a Delta 4 heavy with a Centaur upper stage launched from the Cape.
      Really that was a given. This can pick up just about any wireless communication so yes it may find Bin Laden and it may stop a terrorist attack. It may do a lot of things.
      Sigint/Commint is has been very useful for a very long time.

      In fact looking at your email address you may want to look up your own nation's history. A good part o

    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday November 22, 2010 @03:50PM (#34310210) Homepage Journal

      When Seven of Nine's husband Jack was running against Barack Obama for the Illinois US Senate seat, he was caught up in a sex scandal and the Republicans searched for a replacement. They found a guy from Maryland, a black fellow who'd never set foot in Illinois before.

      A comedian said (and sorry, I've forgotten the guy's name), "Those Republicans! First they can't find Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, then they couldn't find WMDs in Iraq, and now thay can't even find a black man in Chicago!"

  • by OfficialReverendStev (988479) on Monday November 22, 2010 @02:59PM (#34309638)
    ... you know... the moon...?
    • by Abstrackt (609015)
      Well, this is actually the "largest spy satellite ever", so unless the man in the moon is tapping your phone lines they're separate categories.
    • by Stargoat (658863) *

      I was thinking Jupiter might be the largest known satellite, but I suspect most of the stars in the Milky Way orbiting the central black hole (or whatever it is) are probably larger.

    • by Nimey (114278)

      That's be Jupiter. Except the Sun is a satellite of the galaxy's core, and there are whole dwarf galaxies orbiting ours...

      Don't be pedantic, lest someone else out-pedant you.

      • That's be Jupiter. Except the Sun is a satellite of the galaxy's core, and there are whole dwarf galaxies orbiting ours...

        Don't be pedantic, lest someone else out-pedant you.

        That'd be "That'd" be Jupiter.

      • by lennier (44736)

        and there are whole dwarf galaxies orbiting ours...

        Slaves to Armok III: Dwarf Galaxy?

        Now *that* would be a sandbox game.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I was going to say the biggest satellite ON EARTH, but then I remember how the moon was formed -- it actually was on Earth; or at least, splashed from here when a Mars-sized rock smashed the Earth.

      I think the ISS may be bigger, too.

  • Now we can see your junk from orbit.

  • by geirlk (171706)

    I thought we all agreed to keep it metric after the last little 'mishap' with the Mars orbiter.

    Imperial units are sooo 2 centuries too old!

    Maybe you didn't get the memo?

  • a Delta 4 Heavy rocket — carrying a secret new spy satellite for the US National Reconnaissance Office roared into space to deliver into orbit what one reconnaissance official has touted as 'the largest satellite in the world.' The Delta 4 Heavy rocket is the biggest unmanned rocket currently in service and has 2 million pounds of thrust, capable of launching payloads of up to 24 tons to low-Earth orbit and 11 tons toward the geosynchronous orbits used by communications satellites

    Anything else that you can tell us about the secret satellite?

    The mammoth vehicle is created by taking three Common Booster Cores — the liquid hydrogen-fueled motor that forms a Delta 4-Medium's first stage — and strapping them together to form a triple-barrel rocket, and then adding an upper stage. The exact purpose of the new spy satellite NROL-32 is secret, but is widely believed to be an essential eavesdropping spacecraft that requires the powerful lift provided by the Delta 4-Heavy to reach its listening post. 'I believe the payload is the fifth in the series of what we call Mentor spacecraft, a.k.a. Advanced Orion, which gather signals intelligence from inclined geosynchronous orbits,' says Ted Molczan, a respected sky-watcher who keeps tabs on orbiting spacecraft. Earlier models of the series included an unfurling dish structure about 255 feet in diameter with a total spacecraft mass of about 5,953.5 pounds, costing about $750 million and designed to monitor specific points or objects of interest such as ballistic missile flight test telemetry."

    M'kay . . . can you send me the password to will cause that mother-fucker crash down?

    The really super secret satellites . . . well, we don't hear anything about them . . . and we shouldn't, either.

  • Earlier models of the series included an unfurling dish structure about 255 feet in diameter with a total spacecraft mass of about 5,953.5 pounds

    The whosit whatnow?

    The MAGNUM-ORION 1-3 spacecraft introduced the third larger unfurling dish structures "wrap-rib" large deployable bleached white gold colored mesh covered receiving dish antenna design of about 255 feet in diameter with a total spacecraft mass of about 5,953.5 pounds.

    Oh. Of course, the old unfurling dish structures "wrap-rib" large deployable bleached white gold colored mesh covered receiving dish antenna design.

  • Hmmm, how heavy? Like in "heavy metal" heavy? Like Uranium-heavy? No, couldn't be.... right?

  • Bet it has a tag on it that says 'Made in China'.

  • by kurt555gs (309278) <kurt555gs@ovi. c o m> on Monday November 22, 2010 @03:57PM (#34310290) Homepage

    And to think only 45 years ago, all we could manage was 135 tons to low earth orbit on the Saturn V.

    Wow, what progress.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sznupi (719324)

      Almost mass-produced, medium-sized, modular launchers are probably the better way (this Delta does show some of those aspects - and, say, Angara will be very nicely scalable, from 1 to 7 identical core modules) than some huge, rarely launched rocket & the infrastructure required by it.

      Especially since we're quite good, for a long time now, at autonomous docking and on-orbit assembly.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      You get what you pay for - at $43.5Billion in todays money for 13 launches, Saturn V was not cheap. The Delta 4 however has an average cost of $210Million with 14 launches, so is considerably cheaper.
  • ...that means it's really a weapons platform. Just like all "communications satellites" are spy satellites.
  • in the world? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nilbog (732352)

    How is it the largest satellite in the world if it's not ... uhh... in the world?

  • Uh oh... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mephistro (1248898)
    This thing has the right size and lift capability for deploying "rods from God". Scary, isn't it?
  • What shall we consider the when we talk about a satellite being "largest?" As we all know, physical size doesn't matter all that much in space. Weight (or rather, mass) in orbit is probably a greater achievement. The ISS probably takes the cake by both measures, though definitions and semantics make for a tricky comparison.

    The Shuttle, empty and floating in orbit, has a mass of roughly 2000 metric tons. Perhaps, for semantics, we won't consider that a satellite, either.

    For more conventional sa
    • by sznupi (719324)

      The Shuttle has a bit over 100 tonnes... (it's not a single stage to orbit after all - and we probably won't really have this for some time - considering how fabulous an ordinary rocket ends up, if using technology comparable to what is required to make SSTO even barely possible)

      That gamma observatory certainly wasn't the heaviest - few years older Almaz-T was ~18.5t, Proton satellites from the 1960s already ~17t, so I guess there were quite a few heavier ones, on both sides (also, wasn't Titan IV already a

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Monday November 22, 2010 @05:11PM (#34311150) Journal

    One of the linked articles shows a rough illustration of the antenna: A big parabolic umbrella with a forest of feed "horns" (Actually log-periodic crossed YAGIs) on one end of the main satellite at the focus. This maps the feed horns' patterns into an equivalent hexagonal array of slightly overlapping regions on the Earth's surface.

    However the illustration also has each feed horn illuminated by a patch on a similar hexagonal array laid out on the surface of the mirror umbrella. That's bogus. In such an antenna the whole reflector illuminates each of the horns.

    It's equivalent to a camera lens or a reflector telescope - where light for each pixel on the film is collected by the whole lens/main mirror, but each pixel is illuminated by light arriving from a different direction. The bigger the lens/mirror, the more light that's collected for each pixel, and the tighter the focus, i.e. the larger the number of pixels and the smaller the area each one covers. This is the same game with the "film" consisting of an array of antennas, rather than silver grains or photosensitive spots on a retina chip.

  • If I ever get filthy rich, I'm going to buy a new car. Then, I'm going to buy a Delta 4 rocket and launch my old Mercedes into high orbit. Why? because it would be awesome.
    • by Gerafix (1028986)
      Oh come on, surely you mean a 1960 Corvette! Which you would then reenter the atmosphere playing Radar Rider by Riggs.
  • that my tax money is used to launch secret surveillance technology. And of course it is "in my best interest".
  • Last really big spy satellite I took notice of was one carried on board a Titan IV in 1998 that didn't get very far before before exploding and/or being destroyed by range safety personnel [globalsecurity.org]. We usually enjoyed rocket launches (and plenty of mixed drinks) from a friend's condo on the south side of the harbor entrance channel that had a great view of the various launch pads (or at least the rockets after they got a few feet up in the air). For this one, I was on board my ship in port. Someone made a pipe (a
  • Though I did not see any numbers specific to NROL-32, I saw where other satellites in the series were near 6000lbs. There are commercial satellites in operation now with nearly three times that mass, so being "the largest satellite in the world" either means the other stated "largest spy satellite" or more likely the one with the "biggest penis" or "dish" for the layman.

  • by IonOtter (629215) on Monday November 22, 2010 @09:40PM (#34313334) Homepage

    Why not a weapon? [wikipedia.org]

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