Re: Secret satellite resolved ... according to the WaPo

From: Allen Thomson (
Date: Sat Dec 11 2004 - 16:22:25 EST

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    > Ms. Priest also cites an article in Novosti Kosmonavtiki that appears to 
    > rely on orbital analysis:
    > If anyone has a copy of the article, I would be interested in a summary.
    > Ted Molczan
    A kindly correspondent has provided me with a copy of the original, which I 
    read over lunch.  In summary, the article is a compilation and summary of 
    information already in the public domain -- SeeSat,*, Richelson's 
    recent book.  As such, it is excellent, well written and very worthwhile --  
    it reminds me of some of the articles Maj. Andronov wrote for "Foreign 
    Military Review" a decade ago.   I'm going to try to get permission to 
    provide an English translation to a public site, probably FAS or 
    Some interesting bits that I didn't recognize as having come out earlier 
    follow, in my somewhat loose translation:
    -   In the 1980s, while the MISTY-1 satellite was being developed, the main 
    threat to the stealth satellite was the USSR's space surveillance system --  
    the meter-wave radars that were called Hen House and Pechora in the West. 
    The wavelength of these systems was around 1.5 - 2.0 meters, and so the 
    dimensions of the [reflective stealth] screen [on the satellite] should be 
    fairly impressive (6  - 10 meters) in order to ensure mirror [aka specular] 
    reflection of the radio waves and to completely hide the satellite. The 
    principle of mirror reflection presupposes orienting the mirror toward the 
    illuminating radar at a certain angle.  The angle of orientation of the 
    screen [i.e., the mirror] can be calculated ahead of time, since the 
    coordinates of all the stationary space surveillance sites are known 
    - According to press reports, AFP-731 [MISTY] had a mass of 18-19 tonnes and 
    was intended for electro-optical visual and radioelectronic reconnaissance. 
    The mass seems too large in view of the uniquely high orbital inclination of 
    STS-36 (62 degrees), and it seems more reasonable to estimate the initial 
    mass of the satellite as 11-13 tonnes. Even[? - sic] if one proceeds from 
    this conservative estimate and considers that in order to reach the 
    operational orbit the satellite could expend 19-22% of the initial mass, the 
    mass of AFP-731 in its operational orbit would have been a still impressive 
    8-10 tonnes, enough to accomodate an electro-optical system and ELINT 
    equipment.  The dry mass of the satellite (taking into account the needed 
    expenditure of fuel for maneuvering and end-of-life deorbiting) can be 
    estimated as 6-8 tonnes.
    - If one accepts that the light object USA-144 was launched from the MISTY-2 
    satellite, then one can imagine that the satellite itself is to be found in 
    a similar orbit with an inclination of 62-65%, an altitude of around 3000 km 
    and a period of around 2.5 hours.(3)
    - (3) For example, MISTY-2 and the decoy light object could operate in orbit 
    with the same period, but in antiphase (the time of equator crossing differs 
    by a half a period), which would disorient the operation of the Russian 
    space surveilance system. [I have no idea why that should be disorienting, 
    but an explanation might be interesting -- AT.]
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