Re: Deception, denial and disappearing satellites

John Pike (johnpike@fas.org)
Fri, 24 May 1996 08:48:42 -0400

Allen Thomson wrote:

>    Next, starting in 1990, there have been at least four
> "disappearing" satellites which have been reported or suspected
> to be large imaging satellites.

I think that this is more function of the community's, or more
to the point my own, bewilderment about the novel NOSS-2 and
HERITAGE/SDS-2 programs. AFAIK, the only launch that is currently
carried as Missing In Action is AFP-731 [aka USA 53 90-19B].

> (A few others have also disappeared

This is news to me.

>    Most recently, the satellite USA 86, assessed to be a
> photoreconnaissance satellite, was apparently (based on booster
> configuration and launch time and azimuth) replaced by USA 116
> after only three years in orbit.

You raise an interesting point here. The question, however, is
just what sorta orbit one would be in that was 98 degrees and
~1000 x ~5000 km. I need to get some Win95 sat.tracking software
to play around with some orbits along these lines to see what
one might do with this sorta orbitology.....
 
>    While one could write down a list of candidate explanations
> for the disappearances -- one possibility that's been suggested
> is that the satellites were boosted into considerably higher
> orbits to improve area coverage and dwell time

Yes, this is my theory on AFP-731.

But more to the point, there are two T-4 No Upper Stage flights
currently manifested for CCAFS this summer. One will almost certainly
be a Lacrosse, and the surprise free expectation is that the other
will be a Keyhole. It will be interesting to see whether the
Keyhole launch produces an object that stays in LEO, or whether the
thing heads off to MEO sooner or late, to replace AFP-731.

The thing is, the most estimable Jeff Richelson maintains that the
nominal KH constellation is three satellites, and yet as I recall,
apart from that 1984 KH-11 that just refuesed to go away, there 
have been only 2 KH-12s under observation for quite some time now.

My current theory is that the two KH-12s in sun synch orbits are
the "National" birds, and that the one in MEO is the TENCAP bird.

Of course, another possibility is that, more to the point, the
polar sun-synch birds are the CIA birds, and that the MEO bird
is a somewhat/totally different USAF IMINT bird. I continue to
be a bit puzzled by just what sorta IMINT AF Special Projects
was up to prior to 1992, when ODE was given the IMINT account.

-- 
John Pike
Federation of American Scientists  http://www.fas.org/
 CyberStrategy Project             http://www.fas.org/cp/
 Intelligence Reform Project       http://www.fas.org/irp/
 Military Analysis Network         http://www.fas.org/man/
 Space Policy Project              http://www.fas.org/spp/

Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.
  - Jefferson