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Space United States Science

US Launches Largest Spy Satellite Ever 213

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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  • crappy site (Score:2, Informative)

    by callmebill ( 1917294 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @03:44PM (#34309446)
    Crappy TFA site sports pernicious popups.
  • Re:Will it.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, 2010 @04:07PM (#34309726)

    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.

  • Re:Will it.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @04:15PM (#34309814) Homepage

    Actually it might. This is a sigint/comint bird.

    You can keep tabs what orbital slot it ends up in by watching the seesat-l [satobs.org] mailing list that Ted Molczan contributes to.

  • Re:Oops (Score:5, Informative)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @04:18PM (#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:Oops (Score:1, Informative)

    by Bobakitoo ( 1814374 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @04:32PM (#34310012)
    It a spy satellite, that mean watch down the earth surface. It's basically telescope that look down! As for the Hubble space telescope, bigger is better. Contrary to your printer driver, it make sence to brag about how big it is.
  • by kurt555gs ( 309278 ) <{kurt555gs} {at} {ovi.com}> on Monday November 22, 2010 @04:57PM (#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.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @05:52PM (#34310922) Journal

    The "total spacecraft mass of about 5,953.5 pounds"? What is this in kilograms? I know at sea level 1 pound is about 2.2. kg - but in low earth orbit?

    Sorry, AC. "Slugs" (mass that weighs one pound under one standard g) never caught on in general American English usage. A one-standard-g field is assumed when the context says you're talking about mass and the unit is given as force (weight). The distinction is reserved for discussions among practitioners, teachers, and students of specialized fields (such as physics), who are often dealing with situations where it does matter.

    The Toledo Scale motto would be "No Springs, Honest Mass!" if not for this convention. (They're a mass-balance mechanism and not affected by the magnitude of local gravitation, provided it's sufficient for them to operate properly and not high enough to damage the internal components.)

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @06:00PM (#34311030) Journal

    "Slugs" (mass that weighs one pound under one standard g) never caught on in general American English usage.

    Oops. Meant pound-mass (lb-sub-m lbm ), not slug. A slug is about 32.17405 lb-mass, the mass which accelerates by one foot per second squared under a force of one pound.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @06:11PM (#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.

  • Re:more expense (Score:4, Informative)

    by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @06:28PM (#34311296) Homepage

    Well, this one will be placed at 44 degrees E, so it's probably not aimed at you - more at Russia, Caucasus, Middle East, perhaps Somalia.

    (that said, the one being "replaced" by this launch was moved just to the west of Europe; so between the two of them there's probably a nice view of the EU)

  • Re:Oops (Score:3, Informative)

    by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @11:16PM (#34313500) Homepage
    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.

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