Feeds

Rocket hiccup puts US spy sats in wrong orbit

Cockup rather than conspiracy at NRO

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.