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NASA Space The Military Science

NASA Gets Two Military Spy Telescopes For Astronomy 237

Posted by samzenpus
from the hand-me-downs-for-the-heavens dept.
First time accepted submitter SomePgmr writes "The U.S. government's secret space program has decided to give NASA two telescopes as big as, and even more powerful than, the Hubble Space Telescope. Designed for surveillance, the telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office were no longer needed for spy missions and can now be used to study the heavens."
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NASA Gets Two Military Spy Telescopes For Astronomy

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 04, 2012 @03:09PM (#40212885)

    Our intelligence operations are not transparent, and are kept secret to deny our adversaries knowledge of our techniques, capabilities, sources, and methods.

    Security through obscurity is neither.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 04, 2012 @03:16PM (#40212975)

    of what could happen if we spent more on useful, scientific space programs instead of spending it on military. Think of how many missions could have been launched if we did that. How much more we could have learned about the universe.

  • Nice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Simulant (528590) on Monday June 04, 2012 @03:21PM (#40213033) Journal

    Nice to know we can afford to build spy satellites that we don't need. We have our priorities straight.
  • Say whaaa? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pesho (843750) on Monday June 04, 2012 @03:27PM (#40213105)
    Should I be excited that NASA can use the hardware to move projects off the backburner or should I be depressed that NRO is so well funded that they are building toys they don't really need? Now that's the kind of news that can give you bipolar disorder. How can people who have been pinching NASA's pennies for years now can justify secretly building not one but two Hubble class telescopes for which they have no use?
  • Re:Nice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tnk1 (899206) on Monday June 04, 2012 @03:51PM (#40213433)

    Considering that defense is a much more immediate concern than astronomy, I would say that the priorities are exactly correct.

    That's not to say I don't wish we would spend more on space, of course. And military stuff does often get re-purposed like this, so the defense budget is not a complete money sink.

  • Re:Translation ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Solandri (704621) on Monday June 04, 2012 @03:58PM (#40213493)

    This translates to "we have far cooler spy stuff now".

    I would imagine satellite imagery is being supplanted by covert reconnaissance drones. The achilles heel of spy satellites has been their fixed orbits. They can pass over a target only at certain times, can't loiter, and frequently can't get an ideal viewing angle (if the hangar doors open to the West, you have to place the camera there to peek inside). People paranoid about being spied upon can predict when the satellites will be overhead (their orbits are public knowledge since it's virtually impossible to hide anything in LEO), and simply hide everything they're doing when the satellites could see. Yes these problems can be overcome by changing the orbit, but that requires burning fuel, and there's only a finite amount aboard each satellite with (as of the Shuttle's retirement) no way to refuel them.

    Drones overcome all these problems, at the cost of being easier to down [slashdot.org]. But they're several orders of magnitude cheaper (a few $million vs a few $billion), and there's nothing particularly secret about optics and CCDs. The thing that's puzzled me about the drone which was downed in Iran is that it wasn't near any valuable targets I can think of in Iran. It wasn't near Iran's nuclear plant, it wasn't near Tehran, it wasn't near their major military bases, and it wasn't near the Strait of Hormuz. All of these could have been more easily accessed by a drone launched from a nation "friendly" to the U.S. (Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE). But this drone went down way out in the boonies near Afghanistan, which makes me suspect either the USAF was telling the truth and it malfunctioned in Afghanistan and strayed into Iran, or that drones have pretty much supplanted spy satellites and the U.S. is flying a bunch of these all over the place even over medium- and low-value targets.

    would something designed for looking down at Earth be easily adapted to astronomy?

    You'd think the optics/instruments would be optimized for a different problem set.

    The wider field of view would be the biggest impediment. But the uses NASA is thinking of need a wide field of view. And even then, you can add optics which narrow the field of view (increase the focal length). It's not as ideal as the larger optics being shaped from the onset for the longer focal length (more margin for error), but it's not that big a problem. Hubble basically had the same problem - its primary and secondary optics were ground to the wrong shape. This was corrected by inserting small lenses into the light path to correct the error.

    Presumably the NRO stripped out all the instrument sensors and processing electronics. Those are the parts which were most suited for terrestrial targets, and which would've had to have been replaced anyway for deep space (very very low light) applications. Typically this involves cooling the sensor to cryogenic temperatures to decrease the noise floor. So overall this is a very, very good deal for NASA. Assuming they can find a way to launch it (the 94" mirror size was dictated by the largest diameter which was able to fit into the Shuttle's cargo bay).

  • by tomhath (637240) on Monday June 04, 2012 @04:16PM (#40213683)
    Satellites are used where aircraft can't safely fly. Domestic surveillance can be done far cheaper/better without using satellites.
  • by durrr (1316311) on Monday June 04, 2012 @04:23PM (#40213747)

    I'll borrow this free topslot.

    Seriously. The US budget division is bonkers, retarded and upside down. They secret projects have so much money just lying around that they can build two hubble-class telescopes just like that, and then figure out that they don't need them so they can hand them over to NASA, why don't they need them? Well, probably because they built something a lot better and launched it already.

    Now consider then what else they're doing, and what say NASA could do with even a fraction of the money.

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Monday June 04, 2012 @04:39PM (#40213893)
    Yeah go ahead and criticize a company that can actually deliver results, unlike Solyndra and the like. The government did not start SpaceX, took no risk building SpaceX, and deserves no credit for SpaceX's success. They have earned every penny. Be glad the US now has a contractor capable of putting stuff in orbit instead of having to go begging to Russia. The problem with your type is that you think that the government paying for something entitles you to ownership. This infers that you think everyone except you should be working for free.
  • by JimCanuck (2474366) on Monday June 04, 2012 @05:27PM (#40214319)

    Plus, imagine how expensive maintenance is going to be without Shuttle.

    The military's fleet of a total of 15 to date (4 operational, 10 decommissioned and one failed to reach orbit), doesn't get "serviced" by the Shuttle. Although they are similar in respects to the Hubble, none of them were launched by the Shuttle (they were launched by Titan-3Ds for the most part, a few with Titan-IV's and the most recent one with a Delta V Heavy), nor has the shuttle or ISS service them.

    NASA tries to fix them, the NRO tends to make their satellites crash into the atmosphere when they reach their end of life regardless if its a design flaw or its just a old bird in the sky.

  • by Catbeller (118204) on Monday June 04, 2012 @06:49PM (#40214977) Homepage

    Ladies and gentlemen: Why NASA never has enough money.

  • by kellymcdonald78 (2654789) on Monday June 04, 2012 @07:26PM (#40215215)
    Firstly it's not billions. SpaceX has spent perhaps a billion since its inception. Of that, about $400 million is from NASA, $100 million from Elon Musk himself, a couple hundred million from other investors, some from the USAF, and some from DARPA. The biggest difference is how the services were procured. In the past NASA has used cost-plus contracting, meaning Rockwell (now Boeing) and McDonnell-Douglas get paid for whatever it costs "plus" a profit margin. This puts 100% of the risk on the government. It's how $10's of billions were spent on Constellation with virtually nothing to show for it. The COTS, CRS, and CDev contracts SpaceX (and others) use are pure fixed milestone contracts. This puts 100% of the risk on the vendor. If SpaceX fails to deliver, they get $0. If it costs SpaceX $100 million to meet the requirements of a $20 million milestone, they get paid $20 million. Surprisingly it motivates the vendor to perform in as cost effective manner as possible rather than suck up endless government dollars without ever having to show anything. NASA is also buying a service from SpaceX, not hardware. X pounds of cargo to ISS, NASA doesn't own the Dragon that just came back, but they will likely pay SpaceX for meeting the COTS2/3 milestone.

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