Feeds

Rocket hiccup puts US spy sats in wrong orbit

Cockup rather than conspiracy at NRO

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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".

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.

More from Aviation Week and Space Technology here. ®

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.