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[infowar.de] Rocket hiccup puts US spy sats in wrong orbit
Rocket hiccup puts US spy sats in wrong orbit
Cockup rather than conspiracy at NRO
By Lewis Page
Published Monday 18th June 2007 13:53 GMT
In an expensive technical mishap, a brace of top-secret American spy
satellites was fired into incorrect orbits last Friday.
According to a report in Aviation Week and Space Technology, the two
spacecraft in question were ultra-classified ocean surveillance jobs,
described as "critical to tracking ships that may conceal al Qaeda
terrorists...[or] Iranian and Chinese sea-based military operations".
Click here to find out more!
Perhaps vessels from other nations, too. The North Korean ship So San,
seized with a hidden cargo of Scud missiles in the Indian Ocean during
2002, was said to have been tracked by US intelligence since leaving
home (the ship was later allowed to proceed to Yemen, after US officials
acknowledged that the Yemenis were allowed to buy Scuds concealed under
bags of cement if they felt like it).
Whatever it is the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) does with its
secret spy sats, these two will apparently struggle. According to
Aviation Week and Space Technology, the Centaur second stage of the
Atlas V launcher failed to make its second positioning burn correctly.
The two surveillance birds reached an orbit, but not the intended one.
It seems the two spacecraft may have to use a significant proportion of
their manoeuvring fuel to get into a useful position, which would
seriously affect their service life. Spy satellites need to change track
over the Earth's surface fairly frequently in order to get a good look
at areas of interest.
Aviation Week and Space Technology quotes an unnamed official as saying
that "the Atlas V people have a lot of explaining to do".
The Atlas launch programme is managed by United Launch Alliance, and
this was the first use of the Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle
to position secret NRO satellites. The Centaur upper stage, which was
apparently at fault, comes from Lockheed Martin and uses a Pratt &
Whitney rocket engine.
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