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Satellite Spotters Make Government Uneasy 439

An anonymous reader found an interesting little story about satellite spotters and how, not surprisingly, their painstakingly methodical hobby doesn't exactly make gazillion dollar government agencies all that excited. Of course the article raises the very obvious point that if a guy with a pair of binoculars in his back yard can spot a satellite, so can the Chinese government.
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Satellite Spotters Make Government Uneasy

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  • well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by someone1234 ( 830754 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:36AM (#22463424)
    If they are spotted, they failed. I think they should thank the spotters for the free bugtesting.
    • Re:well (Score:5, Insightful)

      by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:42AM (#22463474) Homepage Journal
      Um, maybe I'm missing something obvious here, but if you have an object in low Earth orbit, it would seem to me that as long as there is line of sight to it, there's no way you can really hide it.
      • Dupe (Score:4, Informative)

        by mrxak ( 727974 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:47AM (#22463534)
        Isn't this a dupe? I could've sworn there was an article about this just a week or two ago.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Was it circling Uranus when spotted?
        • Re:Dupe (Score:5, Informative)

          by pionzypher ( 886253 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:47PM (#22464436)
          Modded flamebait? What the hell mods? He's right, this is a dupe of this store that was ran on the fifth. [slashdot.org]
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Sorthum ( 123064 )
            Maybe "whether this has ever been discussed before on Slashdot" isn't what most of us want to see the conversation devolve into?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by gruntled ( 107194 )
          The New York Times owns the International Herald Tribune, the big European daily published out of Paris, so nearly any significant general interest story that shows up the NYT is reprinted in the IHT (I've gotten dual bylines out of this arrangement myself; sadly, one paycheck). A great deal of the IHT copy is just stuff that was in the NYT. If Slashdot editors have a system of tracking stories by publication venue, they might want to make note of this...
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        I don't know what spy satellites look like, but I imagine they coud:
        • Make it look like an ordinary weather/GPS/comm satellite.
        • Go all out in trying to hide it
          • Encase it in the same material as the stealth bombers (radar)
          • Paint it black
          • Remove all blinking lights

        The problem with the second option is that it would be even more expensive, and watchful eyes could still see it as it passes by a bright moon. And then there would be little doubt as to what kind of satellite they were looking at.

        So sans a

        • Re:well (Score:5, Funny)

          by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:07PM (#22463830) Homepage

          Remove all blinking lights

          You Goddamn surrenderniks make me sick. Get rid of the blinkenlights? Blinkenlights are the only thing that separates us from the animals (or the "Chinamen", as we're apparently supposed to call them these days). More blinkenlights! I want those things lit up like Xebusmass trees. I want the commies to look up and have our superior technology slap them in the face like the dangling genitalia of an angry neon God. More blinkenlights!

        • Re:well (Score:5, Informative)

          by Glock27 ( 446276 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:12PM (#22463914)
          So sans a Star-Trek-style Cloaking Device, it will always be detectable at some leve. So they might as well just make it look like some random satellite so there's always a question as to what kind it is.

          It's worse than that. Visible light isn't the problem, it's self emission of long wave infrared (LWIR) radiation. The background of space is very cold (a few K above absolute zero), so anything with any significant temperature contrasts very nicely. In theory it might be possible to cool the front side of the (notionally black) satellite to near zero deg K, but in practice that'd take prohibitive energy, since that nice black surface would absorb a whole lot of solar energy when exposed (~1/2 the time).

          So, civilian satellite spotters aren't the real problem, it's inimical militaries with LWIR telescopes...and there's pretty well nothing to be done about it.

        • by gsslay ( 807818 )

          Make it look like an ordinary weather/GPS/comm satellite.
          So that's what they've been going wrong. Instead of dressing it in a dark cape with sunglasses, they want bright knitwear or a techie jumpsuit.

          Cos that's what weather/GPS/comm satellites look like, right?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ToteAdler ( 631239 )
          If they wanted to make it look like a weather/GPS/comm satellite they'd have to put it in a much much higher orbit. The three you mentioned are geo-stationary satellites which orbit at 35,790 km while the spy satellites which go shooting around really fast are at an orbit of more like 700 to 800 km (satellite heights from NASA http://asd-www.larc.nasa.gov/SCOOL/orbits.html [nasa.gov]). So if you were trying to disguise as one of those, you'd need a much better camera and probably have to worry about other spotting p
        • Re:well (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:34PM (#22464248) Homepage

          Paint it black
          And how would the satellite dissipate all the heat that it would absorb? Arm chair spy-satellite engineering might be fun, but trust me, you are not going to come up with something so obvious such as "paint it black" that the _real_ engineers did not think of first.
        • Satellite registry (Score:3, Informative)

          by Morty ( 32057 )
          There is supposed to be an international registry of known satellites, although not all countries use it consistently [space.com], especially for military satellites.

          Pretending that a spy satellite is a different kind of satellite probably wouldn't work too well. First, different kinds of satellites use different orbits. Even more importantly, non-military US satellites have lots of publicly available information. Non-military satellites are usually either scientific instruments or commercial assets. The paper tra
        • Re:well (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Eternauta3k ( 680157 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:48PM (#22464442) Homepage Journal

          I don't know what spy satellites look like
          A dot of light (even if you have a telescope)

          Remove all blinking lights
          It's actually the reflection from the Sun that lets you see it (maybe the black paint could help, along with frying the satellite and rendering the solar panels useless (unless they have a RTG)).
        • Re:well (Score:5, Interesting)

          by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:58PM (#22464564) Homepage Journal
          Or build it into an upper stage for a legit satellite, such that it enters into an 'effective' orbit after putting the legit satellite where it needs to be.

          You get two satellites up there for the price of one, in essence, while disguising that one of 'em -is- a satellite, rather than just another discarded upper stage of a rocket.

          There are several advantages of this method of doing things:

          Number 1, you don't have to hide that it's up there at all. You can have everyone looking at it, but unless they spot the camera aperture, they're not likely to guess that it's being used for anything at all.

          Number 2, because you don't have to worry about hiding it, you've got a bit more elbowroom--you don't have to fit it into a tiny form factor, or worry too much about hardening the electronics against excessive heat buildup. Wrap the thing in gold foil if you like, as nobody's going to see it inside the booster's skin. If you're clever, you can run the antenna out one of the ends without anything being too obvious.

          Number 3, the cost of putting it up is lessened, because the company that's buying the shot will not necessarily even know that there's a hanger-on sitting below their TV satellite or whatnot.

          Number 3b, because of the reduced cost, you can put more of 'em up and get better coverage.

          Number 4, not only will the booster help hide the satellite from prying eyes visually, it will also hide it on infrared wavelengths--because of course the booster will be a bit warm; it's got a lot of mass and a fairly large size to pick up radiation with during the day.

          Sure, there are some drawbacks--it may require some work to fit the components in around existing fuel tanks and the like--but it's doable, it's doable with today's technology, it's doable for less money than many other solutions, and, frankly, given my track record for ingenious ideas, it's probably already being done by at least three governments.
          • Re:well (Score:5, Interesting)

            by plover ( 150551 ) * on Monday February 18, 2008 @05:31PM (#22467850) Homepage Journal
            There's a huge problem with this idea. To be effective, spy satellites have to be aimed. They don't just hover over interesting parts of the world, they orbit the globe while the earth spins beneath them. And interesting parts of the world don't magically appear beneath their tracks. To aim them means to change their orbit so they fly over the parts that you currently find interesting.

            Rocket boosters are mostly uninteresting because they do not have to be aimed -- they are transferred once to a parking orbit, and there they stay until decay drops them back to earth.

            But if a rocket booster were to change orbits more than twice, it would suddenly become a very interesting rocket booster.

            Other than a handful of satellites with wide public visibility, payloads are not identified. Amateurs label them as they spot them, but civilians don't know for sure if satellite USA-193 is a spy satellite, military satellite, or whatever. The only thing the spotters know is that if a satellite changes orbits, someone on the ground surely cares about it. Yes, if something is dumped into a parking orbit and never changes, it will likely be ignored. But a never changing spy satellite isn't going to see much of the world, and will be pretty useless to its masters.

        • Re:well (Score:4, Insightful)

          by besalope ( 1186101 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @01:07PM (#22464658)
          It's more along the lines of looking for objects in unpublicized flight paths that gives away spy satellites. If you're looking where there should be nothing and there's a moving object, red flags go up real quick. Now if they made dual use satellites (e.g. Weather/Spy) and publicized the flight paths, that would hide them far better. Than painting it black or changing the exterior. After all, the best place to hide things is in plain sight.
          • Re:well (Score:4, Interesting)

            by azrider ( 918631 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @06:15PM (#22468292)

            If you're looking where there should be nothing and there's a moving object, red flags go up real quick.
            There is also the technique for locating "stealthy" objects. If you are looking where there should be something and there is nothing, something is there with rather interesting properties. For reference, think of the situation where stars should be visible.
      • by SQLGuru ( 980662 )
        Camoflage! Paint it black....probably using that "blackest black" from a few weeks ago to reduce the liklihood of shining like a star at the correct angles to the sun.

        • Re:well (Score:5, Insightful)

          by phil reed ( 626 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:03PM (#22463764) Homepage
          Black absorbs sunlight. The satellite would overheat.
          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Then make it transparent! Like a ... giant ... spy ...jellyfish ... in space. Yah.
          • Re:well (Score:5, Funny)

            by ArcherB ( 796902 ) * on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:15PM (#22463968) Journal

            Black absorbs sunlight. The satellite would overheat.
            That's why you launch it at night... duh!

            Seriously, you only need to paint the side that faces the earth, since that's where all the eyes are and the sun is not. You can "paint" the other side whatever color you want since there's not going to be anyone on the far side looking for it (for now anyway).
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by phil reed ( 626 )
              Think about it. The black side will still be absorbing sunlight. Half the orbit the black paint will still be facing the sun, unless it's exactly in the earth's shadow.

              Besides, that only slows (doesn't stop) down optical observation. The "enemy" can still build big radars.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by StikyPad ( 445176 )
              And when it blocks out points of light behind it, commonly know as stars, then what? Oh, I know.. maybe it could just hide on the side of the earth with no people. (For the record, that will be whichever side happens to spot it first.)
      • Re:well (Score:4, Insightful)

        by maxume ( 22995 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:09PM (#22463850)
        If I did have a way to hide satellites, I would make damn sure that I had some satellites that weren't hidden, and I would publicly complain about the fact that people were tracking them.

        Nothing like a little misdirection in the morning.

        (That the Allies sent spotter planes out to get spotted by the enemy that they had located by intercepting and decrypting message traffic, and gave the enemy time to radio home that they had been spotted, is one of my favorite things, ever.)
      • To be effective, a space-based platform must be out there, visible by all and vulnerable to all.

        In space nobody can hear you whine like a little girl.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KublaiKhan ( 522918 )
      Just what I came in to say. If you're going to be putting up a covert satellite, you should put some sort of countermeasures on it to make sure nobody can see it.

      What the US gov't should do is encourage this satellite spotting for two reasons:

      Number 1, as mentioned, it's one hell of a great stress test for your anti-spotting capabilities if everybody's looking for it.

      Number 2, if you have everyone keeping track of the -foreign- satellites as well, then you have a very large volunteer intel force to take ad
    • by Anonymous Coward
      What makes this even worse/funnier is that most satellites run properietary, closed source operating systems like Windows, reducing security and making them very easy to hack. Even leaving out the hardcore Linux hackers (to whom hacking even the most secure Windows system is a breeze), all you need to do is have some Joe Sixpack in the Canadian Alps browse porn via his satellite internet connection, and the satellite's Windows software gets infected with malware as it transmits the HTML to the user. Then yo
    • Planespotting [wikipedia.org] seems to be more of a European obsession than an American one; perhaps it's a leftover from WWII and the Cold War. But recently it's been a problem for the US government - planespotters tracked a bunch of those CIA "extraordinary rendition" kidnapping flights that the US pretended weren't happening.
  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:40AM (#22463456)
    ...but the sky is pretty much Public Domain. Or are you going to outlaw looking up?
    • by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:47AM (#22463550) Journal
      1) Provide free, unlimited, high-speed internet access (and /. subscriptions) to all citizens.
      2) People stop going outside.
      3) Secrecy!

    • by qortra ( 591818 )
      Probably not, but a cynic might believe that they would try to curtail technology designed to do so. Consider Argus [naapo.org], an omni directional radio telescope (by same people who ran the Big Ear telescope of "Wow Signal" [wikipedia.org] fame). It was mostly designed with SETI purposes in mind, but I imagine that finding satellites would be trivial for it. The government might be inclined to ban or require "oversight" for known omni directional telescopes.
      • While that may be true, I doubt that the government could manage to ban optical telescopic instruments over a certain resolving power. Even if this did come to pass, that wouldn't stop China.

    • by omeomi ( 675045 )
      Or are you going to outlaw looking up?

      They could try to outlaw talking about what you've found once you've looked up. Sure, it's against the 1st amendment, but that hasn't stopped the DCMA from preventing people from talking about DRM hacks.
    • by SydShamino ( 547793 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:22PM (#22464062)
      My guess would be that the government, in the interests of national security, would simply ban discussion of the movements of heavenly bodies, as well as research on their movement patterns. We've already seen what happens when radicals [wikipedia.org] start tracking heavenly bodies and make claims about their movement patterns and relationship to earth.

  • by 15Bit ( 940730 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:41AM (#22463464)
    Not quite a dupe, but damn close:

    http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/02/05/1734208 [slashdot.org]

  • There's only so much one can see from the ground. Okay, so you can look up at the sky and say, "hey, there's a satellite, and it isn't listed publicly on the internet. It must be a secret government satellite!" Now, alright - this may be a small problem. It lets the enemy know where our spy satellites will be, and when. But they won't know what kind of sophisticated spying equipment is on them; whether they have a resolution of 5 meters or 5 inches. All they know, basically, is that there's a hunk of
  • by adnonsense ( 826530 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:42AM (#22463470) Homepage Journal

    Of course the article raises the very obvious point that if a guy with a pair of binoculars in his back yard can spot a satellite, so can the Chinese government.

    Just think what the Chinese government would be capable of if they were to stand in this guy's backyard with his binoculars!

  • by kaos07 ( 1113443 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:43AM (#22463492)

    Seriously, two articles in the same day scaremongering about China. Slashdot is turning into The New York Times in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

    If the Chinese can develop tiny robots good for them. If the Chinese can spot satellites, good for them. Why the summary decided to single out China, I don't know. I'm sure if a guy with binoculars can do it, so can just about every government in the world, including the United States government. Remember, you guys aren't the only with satellites up these days.

    First of all we aren't all American here so we don't all quite understand this paranoia about the Chinese. Secondly, I highly doubt the average Slashdotter, who is generally well educated, has the kind of irrational paranoia that Slashdot seems to be provoking in these articles.

    • by Gyga ( 873992 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:49AM (#22463566)
      Why Americans are uneasy about China: China owns American hand, foot, and soul. China is not a democracy. China has blatant censorship and other policies that Americans hate. Americans like pretending such policies don't exist here. China is one of the few contries that have a military that can take ours and who is not a trustworthy friend.
      • by sjbe ( 173966 )
        I think I'm responding to a troll but whatever...

        China owns American hand, foot, and soul.

        Oh please. Yes, China's economy is important to the US. Guess what? Works the other way too. An export economy doesn't work very well if they have no one to export to. Sure they have hundreds of billions in US debt. So what? Who are they going to sell it to? If they dump it, they would tank their own economy. They buy that debt to maintain the stability of their own currency. The best they can do is slowly diversify but they don't "own" the US any

    • Scare mongering IS the point. Without it, this is not a story. at. all.

      I'm reasonably certain that the US and other governments pay people to look at the sky to find things, like rocks that might land on people some day, and junk floating around the planet that might destroy 'spy' satellites.

      The ONLY reason this is a story is scare mongering. Anyone that had half a clue could have told you with reasonable certainty that tracking satellites was being done by hobbyists. Those with more than a clue could have
    • by Otter ( 3800 )
      Why the summary decided to single out China, I don't know. I'm sure if a guy with binoculars can do it, so can just about every government in the world, including the United States government.

      If you RTFA (or even if you don't) it's perfectly obvious that your point is precisely the one being made in the article, not that the Chinese and some space buff are the only people with binoculars.

    • by qoncept ( 599709 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:10PM (#22463866) Homepage
      "I highly doubt the average Slashdotter, who is generally well educated, ..." I wish I had mod points so I could mark this post funny. People here, in general, are idiots like everywhere else. When I was in the Air Force people always used to be surprised when someone would do something stupid; they thought that since you had to score in the 40th percentile in the ASVAB test to get in the Air Force rather than the 30th as in the Navy, the people should be smarter.
    • when after their economic bubble bursts a demagogue in beijing announces the invasion of taiwan to assuage empty stomachs and shortcircuit criticism of the technocrats with a little rally round the wagons ultranationalism

      of course, that's totally impossible. of course. i'm a false alarmist for saying that. of course. han imperialism is a myth, a lie. of course

      it's hardly an american obsession friend. if america disappears into a giant lake tomorrow, i hardly think the rest of the world will toast the peace
    • First of all we aren't all American here so we don't all quite understand this paranoia about the Chinese.

      Well they are number one with respect to industrial and military espionage directed at us. They attempt to manipulate our electoral system with illegal campaign contributions. Their military is a bit aggressive with us, recall their ramming of our surveillance aircraft and the games played with the aircraft on the ground. Their currency manipulation to remain an extremely inexpensive exporter. The b
    • It's there to take our minds off the war with Islam?

      It's also there because high-tech secrecy is something that only matters if you've got a high-tech enemy, and Russia's really not that relevant a threat these days. So if you're in the business of high-tech paranoia, the Chinese are the only other superpower around.

  • by Cathoderoytube ( 1088737 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:45AM (#22463516)
    Hey! Hold on! Hold on! Lay off the Chinese! I thought they were our friends I mean they ARE hosting the Olympics. Nobody who hosted the Olympics ever turned out to be bad. Am I right folks? Am I right?
    So what if they can see all the satellites the Yanks ever launched? It's not like they'd be developing some means to shoot them down. It's pretty obvious they're working on a weather control machine at the moment.
  • GOOD!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by krygny ( 473134 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:46AM (#22463530)
    The people charged with our defense and national security are *supposed* to be uneasy, ...lay awake nights, ... constantly wonder if all they've done is enough. That way, the rest of us don't have to.

    Many LEO satellites are visible to the naked eye, and certainly with only a little optical assistance. Spotting one and speculating what it's doing are two different things. But maybe it's time to employ a little stealth for satellites too.
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Entropius ( 188861 )
      The people charged with our defense and national security are *supposed* to be uneasy, ...lay awake nights, ... constantly wonder if all they've done is enough.

      Yes, I know some of them. They lay awake at night wondering if there's a way they can swindle even *more* money out of the American taxpayer.

    • by garcia ( 6573 )
      The people charged with our defense and national security are *supposed* to be uneasy, ...lay awake nights, ... constantly wonder if all they've done is enough. That way, the rest of us don't have to.

      Haven't you been paying attention, especially in the last week? It's now reversed! Those charged with our defense and national security are making the citizens of this country uneasy by laying on thick and heavy the guilt trip bullshit and scare tactics so that they can sleep easier at night knowing that they
  • by TransEurope ( 889206 ) <eniac.uni-koblenz@de> on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:47AM (#22463546)
    ... a revolutionary new way of cloaking secret, spacebased facilities.
    The new method is called black, dull color.
  • They Already Know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:50AM (#22463580)
    The US government isn't worried about China or vice versa. We both know where each other's satellites are; both public and "secret". You don't put two billion dollar objects in orbit on a potential crash course. It just doesn't happen. That's why they know, we know they know, they know we know they know, and we're all comfortable with that.

    Next question?
  • WARNING: (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @11:54AM (#22463656)
    Do NOT look through binoculars at secret government laser satellite with remaining eye.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by toxcspdrmn ( 471013 )
      Do NOT look through binoculars^W telescope at secret government laser satellite with remaining eye.
  • When did China become "The Enemy"? I thought you were still working on Al-Qaeda. Did I miss a memo?
  • by nsebban ( 513339 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:08PM (#22463840) Homepage
    Let's just restrict the access to that guy's backyard, and forbid he let any chinese people use his binoculars.
  • by donscarletti ( 569232 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:09PM (#22463858)

    "If Ted can track all these satellites," Pike said, "so can the Chinese."

    Of course the Chinese can track these satellites, the Chinese have a multi-trillion dollar economy. With that you can afford the education, staff and equipment to track satellites with far more accuracy than these hobbyists since they can use things like Radar and large telescopes. The Chinese got these things by being a stable and peaceful (albeit repressive) state. The Chinese know where the satellites but they're not the ones who anyone's worried about. Smaller groups such as certain terrorist organisations possibly do not have the organisation or patience to find out this information themselves, but they do have the ability to look up web pages.

    Despite their benign intentions, there are consequences for exposing any information of this nature. Information has always been one of the most important weapons in any human conflicts. Whether you believe you have a nationalistic duty to protect the secrets of your nation and its allies or not, one must consider that by publishing data of this nature, despite it just being numbers one can calculate in one's backyard can result in bad things happening to good people. One must consider that just because one is fairly safe from terrorism in most of the developed world, it is a way of life in Northern India, Pakistan, Israel, Iraq where it claims life on a steady basis, if public satellite data prevents the governments of these regions from suppressing those who attack civilians, then those deaths are a consequence of the publishing of the information. This isn't about protection of the revenue model of some fat record labels, this isn't about exposing government lies or software patents. This is information who's revelation could lead to death and it should be treated with serious discretion.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nagora ( 177841 )
      This is information who's revelation could lead to death.

      In what way? And are there really no people working for highly-funded terrorist networks who can't afford a decent telescope and take advantage of the dark, dark desert nights? If they can't get as good a dataset as these hobbyists then they're probably not much of a threat.


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      What will $CURRENT_SCARY_SMALL_TERRORIST_GROUP possibly do with this information, prey tell?
    • by Richard W.M. Jones ( 591125 ) <rich@ann[ ]a.org ['exi' in gap]> on Monday February 18, 2008 @01:18PM (#22464810) Homepage

      Smaller groups such as certain terrorist organisations possibly do not have the organisation or patience to find out this information themselves, but they do have the ability to look up web pages.

      And then what? "Look up web pages" on how to shoot them down?

      I'm guessing you mean the "terrorists" can hide from them, but there are too many satellites to do that, and the amateur satellite trackers don't know accurately which ones are spy sats (the ones you have to hide from) versus other types of sats like military communications. Plus the US military mostly uses UAVs to track terrorists, and those aren't being tracked, nor fly in predictable orbits.


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kent_eh ( 543303 )
      Smaller groups such as certain terrorist organisations possibly do not have the organisation or patience to find out this information themselves, but they do have the ability to look up web pages.

      It always comes back to the terrorist bogeyman, doesn't it...

      1) In the same way that there *weren't* communists under every bed during the cold war, there *aren't* terrorists lurking in every shadow today.

      2) If those terrorists had the technology to affect a satellite in orbit, they probably wouldn't use it for th
  • Just kidding. If the rocket scientists doesn't get off their ass China will be seeing its own satellites up there- with red, white, and blue stripes. I wish I had a list or link of rocket failures by country, but the US is up there.
  • Dupe (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fnord666 ( 889225 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @01:15PM (#22464758) Journal
    If you would like to see the previous discussion of the exact same article published on the same day(although published through a slightly different outlet), please see the discussion here [slashdot.org].
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @01:27PM (#22464890) Homepage
    Any sort of free intellectual activity, following what interests you to see where it leads, makes authoritarians uneasy. Bad governments seek to exercise power by restricting information. Anyone who's just naturally curious and follows their bliss for the sheer joy of finding things out represents a danger to authoritarians.

    It's not just political speech that's dangerous, it's anything that seeks truth that might not always align with propaganda.

    That's why the freedoms provided in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution are so precious.

  • by AeroIllini ( 726211 ) <aeroillini@@@gmail...com> on Monday February 18, 2008 @03:27PM (#22466408)
    Maybe, just maybe, the CIA shouldn't be placing big honking satellites they want to keep secret in very predictable, visible orbits.

    Do human spies walk in the middle of a great big plaza in full sunshine on a predictable rotation if they want to stay hidden? Of course not-- they stick to the shadows, and they vary their route.

    Spy satellites are going to be a relic of the past pretty soon anyway, as radar-invisible high-altitude [wikipedia.org] drone [wikipedia.org] planes [wikipedia.org] are becoming the norm. A drone does not have a set flight path like an orbit, so the enemy can't predict where it's going to go even if it is spotted. It flies in the atmosphere, so the IR contrast with the rest of space is not there, and it's made of radar-absorbing materials that make it all but invisible. Add in some visual camouflage (like painting the underside the same color as the sky) and reduce the engine noise with cleverly shaped nozzles, and the enemy will never even know it's there. As the technology to fly these things gets better and the drones themselves get longer range, we might not even need spy satellites anymore.

    Satellites with cameras will always be useful for Earth Science and other pursuits. But they might not be the best vector for obtaining covert high-altitude images of enemy territory anymore.
  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @08:35PM (#22469564)
    Satellites are classified by orbits, and orbital maneuvering, more than by anything else (assuming you don't have direct knowledge of their mission). Different satellites have different orbits for a reason, to support their mission, and their orbits thus provide information about their missions. GPS satellites are in high 12 hour orbits, comm sats are in even higher, 24 hour, orbits, weather satellites are in sun-synchronous polar orbits, etc.

    An example : if you have an orbit that passes over Baghdad, big deal, they all will do that sooner or later. If you have one that passes over Baghdad early to mid-morning, when the shadows are nice and long (generally regarded as the best time for surface photography), you may have something. If you have an object whose orbit is continually tweaked to keep passing over Baghdad during mid-morning every few days, and that also happens to be at the perigee of the orbit, then you almost certainly have something. If you look at where it passes over during later-afternoon on other orbits, you may start to gain insight into what other targets are of interest.

    You can bet that every serious intelligence service on the planet does this. Amateurs have been doing it since the 1950's, so this is old, old news.

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor