RE: NOSS & spysats

Ted Molczan (
Tue, 21 May 1996 23:59:23 -0400

R.B. Minton wrote:

>and I have heard the term Maskirovka used to mean the same.  After Lacrosse 1
>got bagged by amteurs these different people decided to start launching these
>strategic resources on expendible boosters rather than the shuttle.  They also
>started disappearing by using altitude and plane changes

The decision to switch back to expendable boosters was made several years 
before I gave Aviation Week the story about the amateur tracking of the
shuttle and its post-deployment proximity to Lacrosse. I do not recall the
exact year, but I believe it was well before the Challenger accident, that the
military decided that the shuttle could not be relied upon for assured access
to space, and received funding for a number of Titan IV's. The Challenger 
accident led to their complete abandonment of the shuttle, though that took a
few years to implement. The several post-Challenger, shuttle launched LEO,
HEO and GEO payloads mostly were already in the pipeline before the

>suspect that changes in flash rates, and "breakups" are just more D&D.  You can
>pack a lot of inflatable balloons, aluminized mylar, radar reflective wire, etc.
>into a small volume. 

The only launch that could even begin to support this idea is STS 36, which 
deployed 90019B, aka USA 53, into a 62 deg LEO orbit. NORAD catalogued 
5 pieces of debris. They were not seen by amateur observers, so we have no 
idea of their size. It was the Russians who announced that the satellite had 
broken up. Was this deception, and if so by whom? I believe that the simplest 
answer was that the 5 pieces of debris were small payloads, perhaps like the 
ODERACS spheres deployed on later DOD missions, or incidental debris related 
to the payload. Either one would be consistent with the lack of a "USA" number. 

There is a superficial resemblance between the missions of STS 36 and those 
of the acknowledged ODERACS releases:

- All were high inclination missions. ODERACS required this because the objective 
was to test and calibrate satellite tracking radar, all of which are located well north 
of KSC's latitude. Recall that the first set of acknowledged deployments had been 
scheduled for the high inclination 92086A DOD shuttle mission, but were canceled 
due to deployment problems.

- Each deployment involved 5 or 6 objects. USA 36 had 5; 94006A had 6, and
95004A had 5.

Perhaps the Russians misinterpreted the presence of these objects,
either out of ignorance or the desire to embarrass the U.S.A. From the very
first shuttle mission, the Russians had criticized its military role. I can easily
believe a combination of both possibilities. For example, the Russian space
trackers might have temporarily lost the payload after its major manouevre of
7 Mar 1990, and upon finding the debris, initially suspected a break-up. This
was then given to their media to report, to embarrass the U.S.A. Once the
Russians figured out the truth, it would have been too embarrassing to them
to reveal it. I can think of several other variations on this explanation. 

>My final thought is for anyone interested in observing satellites to think of
>various observation techniques to discern what is really up there.  For NOSS it
>might be listening for it on radio frequencies (since it is doing radio inter-
>ferometry), looking for glints from long-wire antennas; or anything else out of
>the ordinary

My [rather limited] understanding is that the NOSS do
not transmit a signal as part of their surveillance
process, but instead receive the routine transmissions 
from ships at sea. On the other hand, Lacrosse certainly
does transmit a radar signal. I wonder if anyone has
detected it. Could its properties be helpful to an
SAR expert to deduce it capabilities?

>.  I'm also certain that when we find a weak area, that will be the
>next place they beef-up their D&D. 

I am not convinced that we have demonstrated any weak
areas that could easily be solved. Basically, it is 
impossible to hide a rocket launch, and LEO payloads
of reasonable size will eventually be found, either
by accident or organized searches. The best way for
the satellite's managers to discourage amateurs would
be to lift the secrecy on orbital elements imposed 
in June 1983. I believe that was done to thwart the 
interpretative efforts of independent Western analysts, 
but the result was that it attracted even more interest, 
because of the challenge.

> I see seesat-l's greatest assets being it's
>computational abilities, observational prowness, experience, and communication.

Well Seesat-L is not specifically a satellite sleuthing
operation, but it has proven to be invaluable as a focal
point for all types of satellite observation. In the
late '80s, when I began to use the net to aid in satellite
sleuthing, it was difficult to reach large numbers of
hobbyists with the appropriate skills and interest. I had 
to rely upon USENET astronomy and space conferences, which 
proved not very effective in generating useful observations.
Basically, it was the e-mail with already established
observers and analysts that was most useful. Seesat-L is 
the logical outgrowth of that early, unorganized e-mail 
network. One additional important benefit is that newcomers 
to satellite observation now have a place where they can 
learn from those with experience.

bye for now