Feeds

Rocket hiccup puts US spy sats in wrong orbit

Cockup rather than conspiracy at NRO

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

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. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
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.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.