I've waited a bit before replying to this thread in order to try to answer various people's questions and comments in one message. The topic is a bit peripheral to the charter of SeeSat, but the questions were asked here and the amateur observers' community has been highly involved in tracking classified satellites, including the putatively stealthy ones. I'll take the liberty of posting this long reply, but suggest that follow-ups be via e-mail. >Date: Tue, 09 Jun 1998 15:48:56 -0500 >From: Dave Mullenix <email@example.com> >The Manchester Guardian article on spy sats has this interesting >paragraph: >Since writing his controversial report, says Thomson, it's become clear >that the US has tried to hide some of its satellites. Starting in 1990, >four satellites have "disappeared" from the view of amateur trackers. >Thomson suspects that the satellites use stealth technology, and have >been moved to higher orbits. >Can anybody tell us which four satellites have "disappeared"? As Sean Sulliven suggests below, the prime suspects are AFP-731 and the three NOSS 2 A objects. I wrote up a note on these a while back -- it needs some updating, but may still be of some use: http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/imint/afp731_at_960521.htm Also of possible relevance are http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/imint/afp731_at_960819.htm and http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/imint/at_951011.htm >Also, any >ideas on what the "stealth" technology would be? I assume they have >something better than black paint to play with. I wouldn't think that >the aircraft stealth technology would work too well, though. That seems >to mostly involve not creating surfaces that reflect radar waves >directly back to the transmitter. That won't work for visual sighting >because the "light transmitter" is the sun and the "light receivers" are >our eyes and there's usually a very wide angle between the two. I think you're guilty of an excess of rationality here. :) Stealth in space, whether optical or radar, is likely to depend primarily on the same reflective principles as aircraft radar stealth. Absorptive materials will play perhaps a supporting role in places where there need to be penetrations of the reflecting shield, suppression of creeping waves, etc. The implication of this is that, as in the aircraft case, you have to have a very good idea of where the threat receivers are so that you can arrange to steer "nulls" at them (or, to phrase it differently, send their "line of sight" out into space.) This is, as you suggest, particularly problematic in LEO, since the amount of solid angle containing potential receivers is large, and making an error can turn your stealthy reflective surface into an anti- stealthy flare producer. I've been told by some former NRO contractors that this is what happened to AFP-731: the operators had been assured that there was no detection threat except a few radar and optical sites in the USSR, and so they nulled those out -- giving Western European and UK observers a nice show. Oops. (This, BTW, was not the fault of the operators, but the result of some fairly spectacular malfeasance among the people who were supposed to be providing threat analyses, plus lack of due diligence on the part of the program office.) Among the advantages of going to higher orbit is the smaller solid angle containing potential observers you need worry about. For one example of how a stealth satellite might look, see http://patent.womplex.ibm.com/cgi-bin/viewpat.cmd/5345238 . There are obviously other ways to do it, such as rigid reflective shells. From: "Lloyd Verhage" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Tue, 9 Jun 1998 16:02:51 CST6CDT > The Manchester Guardian article on spy sats has this interesting > paragraph: >What kind of paper is this? Do they tend to focus on liberal or >conservative issues? The reason I ask this is the next statement. > Since writing his controversial report, says Thomson, it's become clear > that the US has tried to hide some of its satellites. Starting in 1990, > four satellites have "disappeared" from the view of amateur trackers. > Thomson suspects that the satellites use stealth technology, and > have been moved to higher orbits. Is stealth a conservative vs liberal issue? If so, I'd assume the liberals are pro-stealth, as it was Jimmy Carter who gave the go-ahead on the B-2. :-) As I understand it, the Guardian (UK readers please correct me if I'm wrong) is center-left, but is one of the principal and most respected newspapers in the UK. >I don't see how this makes sense. Hopefully, this note will help make things clear, or at least semi-plausible. >It seems to me that Thomson has an axe to grind. Well, I do have some concerns about the way our satellite reconnaissance systems have been designed. See http://www.fas.org/spp/eprint/at_sp.htm . >Correct me if I'm wrong, but once a satellite ias up, no >one is going up to modify it. You're wrong. See the patent referred to above. >Also, spy satellites work best in low orbits where their resolution >is best. Only if resolution is the principal figure of merit. Since Desert Storm, things like dwell time and coverage have come to be regarded as of equal if not greater value in military situations. Going higher helps with both of those -- and, as mentioned above, it does help with stealth by reducing the solid angle of the earth as seen from the satellite. One meter resolution is good enough for many military needs, and an optical system that can do 10 cm at 500 km range can do 1 m at 5000 km. See http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/imint/at_950509.htm >Or perhaps the satellites have reentered the atmosphere. That can't be ruled out, although a half-dozen people with various connections to the programs have said that they haven't (at least as of a few years after launch). But maybe they were just foolin'. >In this case I would suspect that Thomson is being less than honest. If I knew they'd reentered around the time of their disappearances, it would be dishonest. However, all the information I have is to the contrary. But I could, of course, simply be mistaken. >These comments set off my baloney detector. A baloney detector is a very good thing to have in this wicked world, but one should take care that it's properly calibrated. >But I'm sure I'll be corrected if I'm wrong. :) De nada. >Lloyd >Beinging satellite watcher Persist! It's a great hobby. >Date: Tue, 09 Jun 1998 18:42:11 -0500 >From: Dave Mullenix <email@example.com> >I thought I got the URL for the spysat article from this mailing list, >but so many haven't heard of it that I guess I got it somewhere else. >Here's the URL for the article I mentioned regarding the stealth sats: >http://online.guardian.co.uk/pic.html >It's from the English newspaper, "The Guardian". The article is about >how India and Pakistan avoided American spy satellites while preparing >for their recent underground nuclear tests. The lines about four spy >satellites vanishing were a minor aside in the main story. Duncan Campbell (the author) got the disappearing satellite stuff from the messages referenced above. I just told him that yes, I still thought that what's in them is valid. [snip] >I've since had messages saying that there's no such thing as stealth >tactics for satellites, but I highly doubt this. You're right, the message-writers are wrong -- see the patent referenced above. Also, it's now documented that that stealth for reconnaissance satellites was under consideration back at the dawn of the spysat era. >From a formerly secret document of 8 January 1963, declassified by the NRO on November 26, 1997: MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD SUBJECT : 9-10 January Meeting On Satellite Vulnerability 1. The vulnerability meeting on 9-10 January should result in two fairly well detailed programs. One would be directed specifically at the "C" [i.e., CORONA] vehicle. The second would be a broad, long term program of a more fundamental nature, aimed at providing the basic data we will need for succeeding systems and for more sophisticated approaches with the current system. 2. "C" Vehicle Program a. --- b. S[E?S? copy unclear]D should undertake an extensive program of cross section reduction and concurrent decoy design. At the same time they should investigate scintillation techniques to confuse radar signatures. (This may be particularly suitable for "J" which will scintillate naturally for part of its lifetime.) c. We should develop, test and maintain as shelf items one or more hardened models of the "C" mission. Such models would incorporate cross section reduction techniques, decoys, shielding and other countermeasures... 3. Broad Program A great deal o basic work needs doing. The following, surely, is just a partial list. a. -- b. -- c. -- d. Methods of reducing optical cross sections. e. Radar cross section study, low cross section shapes, absorbers signal attenuation and modification, scintillation techniques, flush mounted antennas. f. -- g. -- h. Study and development of capability to hide among existing space objects. Signed [Signature censored] Development Division OSA-DD/R [Office of Special Activities - Deputy Directorate of Research] [[Central Intelligence Agency]] >I'm sure there are plenty of things that can be done to make satellites >harder to spot both visually and via radar. Indeed. >I was just hoping that someone on this list would have some suggestions >of how to do it. Hope the above helps. >Date: Tue, 9 Jun 1998 19:51:34 -0400 (EDT) >From: Sean Sullivan <firstname.lastname@example.org> >I don't know which satellites Thomson has in mind, but the obvious four >candidates are the A objects from the three NOSS block-2 launches, plus >the STS-36 payload. Correct. >The latter object was found (by accident - it turned >up as an unid much later) but it did disappear for a long time. And then it disappeared again, possibly to a higher orbit where it's subsequently escaped the notice of the amateurs. Whether other, non-amateur observers have spotted it is a fascinating question. See the "Disappearing Satellites" note referenced above. >The A objects associated with the NOSS-2 launches are more mysterious; >I have seen one of these objects (90-050A) through heavy clouds, but it >maneuvered and was not seen again (my obs was probably *before* deploy >of the NOSS cluster, so it may have been a single package at the time. I agree. Enough people in the know have been sufficiently outraged by the AFP-731 episode that they've been willing to talk. Consequently, I think I have a pretty good idea of what happened and why (not a pretty picture). But there's a lot less buzz going around about the NOSS-2 A objects, only a couple of reasonably credible assertions that yes, they did go to higher orbits in the 1000x10,000 km range. I assume that either they worked more or less as planned, or, disappointingly, really aren't very interesting. The only puzzling part about the "worked as planned" hypothesis is why they drew attention to themselves before performing the disappearing trick. >To throw out some half-baked ideas, the Molniya-like inclination of the >NOSS clusters suggests the possibility that the mystery A objects are in >some kind of eccentric orbits with fixed perigee latitude. Absolutely -- that makes all the sense in the world, and also applies to AFP-731 (I talked about that some in the "Spysats going higher" note). Interestingly, the new Russian spysat Arkon-1 is using such an orbit, so maybe they have also decided that dwell time and coverage are sometimes to be preferred over resolution. >I have also >heard the idea floated that they may be hiding in "debris fields" from >some breakups (seen but not recognized as interesting). Yes, see last item in the 1963 CIA memorandum. Trying to look like a smallish piece of junk is probably intrinsically less demanding on signature reduction techniques than trying to disappear altogether. When I looked at this possibility a couple of years ago, it turned out that the objects associated with USA 40 aren't a bad match to the hypothesized final NOSS 2 A and AFP-731 orbits. >I personally >think that these A objects are among the most interesting DOD mysteries. One of the reasons satellitology is fun. P.S.: Reports of stealth satellite programs go way back. It's true that newspaper reports don't constitute proof of much of anything, but when they come from generally well-respected reporters, they do deserve some attention. Smaller Spy Satellites May Give U.S. Stealth Capability Over Trouble Spots The Washington Post, February 01, 1998, FINAL Edition By: Walter Pincus, Washington Post Staff Writer Section: A SECTION, p. A09 A new generation of small intelligence satellites, planned to be launched beginning in 2003, is expected to give U.S. analysts almost constant overhead images of specific trouble spots anywhere in the world, according to administration and congressional sources. Some of the new vehicles may be equipped with stealth technology so they cannot be tracked by radar, several sources said. But other sources doubt a way has been found to prevent detection of the satellites, a feat the CIA and Pentagon have been trying to accomplish since the 1960s. Keith Hall, director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) which buys and flies the satellites, would not discuss stealth capability in satellites. Other sources on Capitol Hill and within the intelligence community said the existence of the technology in satellites is one of the closest-held secrets in government. There was a similar article a decade earlier, U.S. Designs Spy Satellites To Be More Secret Than Ever by William Broad The New York Times November 3, 1987 [I can't locate the text right now, but it said, in the context of bigsats rather than Pincus' smallsats, that the US was trying to stealthify satellites.] plus reports from 1984 that the Long Duration Exposure Facility included stealth materials in its experiments: Shuttle Challenger Launched Toward Swashbuckling Adventure Astronauts Scheduled to Retrieve and Repair Damaged U.S. Satellite in Space The Washington Post, April 07, 1984, By: By Thomas O'Toole, Washington Post Staff Writer Section: A, p. 02 "Sources said Stealth material must be tested in space because the Air Force is considering development of Stealth satellites and even Stealth shuttle craft that could fly in orbit undetected by Soviet ground radar." And, (finally!) SDIO seems to have thought it was worth looking into: Stealth Satellite Test Conducted Defense News September 25, 1989, p.2 The Strategic Defense Initiative Organization announced last Friday that it had quietly launched on Sept. 4 and Sept. 11 two rockets to test stealth features for U.S. satellites. The suborbital satellites [sic] launched in the $6.6 million Starmate experiment were tracked by radars, as well as infrared, ultraviolet and visible sensors in their brief 10 minute flights. The rockets were launched from Kauai Test Facility in the Hawaiian Islands. The information will be used to increase the survivability of U.S. satellites, which face threats from Soviet ground- launched interceptors and from future space- mines and directed energy weapons, DoD officials say.