NRO Rides Again

Posted by Sam Churchill on

This evening at 6:53 p.m. EDT, Lockheed Martin and International Launch Services hope to launch the NROL-1, thought to be a Mercury signals intelligence spacecraft, atop an Atlas 2AS rocket, operated by the National Reconnaissance Office.

Update#1: The launch has been rescheduled for Tuesday at 6:49 pm EDT.

Update#2: 7:17 p.m. EDT; LIFT-OFF! Lockheed Martin’s last Atlas 2-series vehicle rockets away from Cape Canaveral to deliver a classified U.S. national security spacecraft into orbit! At T+ 73:50, Spacecraft Separation should occur.

It will be the fourth [fifth] attempt. The first was halted by a battery issue; the second, by a liquid oxygen spill, and the third, by lingering storm clouds.

The launch was delayed the third time after 11,000 gallons of rocket fuel spilled, Lockheed officials said.

The classified military satellite for the NRO may have a big ear – and an equally big budget. These things reportedly run a billion dollars a pop – working or not. From high geosynchrous orbits, SIGINT satellites like Vortex, Magnum, Mercury and Orion are said to have dishes more than 50 meters (150 feet) in diameter which can intercept and relay low-powered radio and cell phone conversations.

Boeing’s Thurya, a commercial spin-off, looks an awful lot like an NRO SIGINT satellite which provides targetable geolocation against communications or radar emitters. Makes you wonder who runs that show.

This will be the 63rd and final flight of the Atlas 2 series of rockets. The Atlas 2AS, the oldest Atlas version in use, is being superseded by the Atlas 5, a more versatile rocket that can be launched in light, medium or heavy payload configurations and was designed to be cheaper and easier to launch.

Aerospacecorp contracts some of the design work. Over the last forty years, industry watchdogs say, the NRO has received more than $200 billion to design, build, launch, and operate cutting-edge technologies.

U.S. News and World Report says, America’s spy satellites cost billions, but can’t get off the launch pad.

“The United States has invested $200 billion over the past four decades developing and operating its supersecret spy satellite programs. …The NRO is now so beset by problems that there is no guarantee America will be able to maintain its huge advantage in space. Failed management, bungled technical assessments, and repeated engineering and testing failures have plagued the NRO for years.

The NRO hasn’t put up a satellite in 22 months but plans to launch two satellites before the end of the year, the first scheduled for August 18. The spacecraft is said to be an updated version of the Mercury eavesdropping satellite lost in August 1998. Boeing’s troubled $25 billion Future Imagery Architecture program–the NRO’s next-generation satellite system – still isn’t off the ground”.

Dave Thompson, President & CEO, Spectrum Astro has some choice words on America’s Other Space Agency (the NRO), which has apparently squandered tens of billions of dollars recently with nothing to show for it.

“The NRO knows how to build one hell of an office building. They have the nicest office complex in all of America, granite and marble, soaring stainless steel and glass, and mahogany desks in private offices. That new NRO Taj Mahal is really nice and they have the nicest cafeteria in all of America. You can eat in little Mexico, little Italy, you can have southern grits and bacon, eight kinds of bread, five kinds of gourmet soup and sixteen toppings for your ice cream dessert.

But where are those revolutionary satellites that they promised us?”

The NRO Jr site is… “a fun site to engage children in the wonders of science, math and space in a fun and interactive manner”…

It’s fun to read between the lines. Like the Whitney Biennial.

Here’s a Java 3D satellite tracker while SeeSat-L and their List Serve have mailing lists for visual satellite observers. Jonathan’s Space Report has the latest news and World SpaceFlight News has more space links than anyone. Here’s the latest from Vandenburg.

More satellite information is available at Network Magazine, Lloyd Wood’s Satellite Constellations, The SkyREPORT, LyngSat Satellite Chart, Global VSAT Forum, Boeing Satellite Systems, Loral Skynet, PanAmSat and SES Americom.

China offered a rare glimpse of its manned space flight center this week, drawing back — if only slightly — the veil of secrecy around China’s ambitions in outer space. The Jiuquan complex, one of the few remaining areas in China still off limits to foreigners, stands in stark contrast to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, which is easily accessible and open to tourists. Spread dozens of miles across barren steppes of Kazakhstan, lays Baikonur, the world’s biggest space launch center.

Major Commercial Launch Services
Launch Service Provider Rocket Launch Site
Arianespace Ariane 4 Kourou, French Guiana
Ariane 5 Kourou, FG
Boeing Satellite Systems Delta Cape Canaveral AS, FL & Vandenberg AFB, CA
China Great Wall Long March Xichang
International Launch Services

Atlas Cape Canaveral AS, FL & Vandenberg AFB, CA
Proton Baikonur, Khazakhstan
Japan, Rocket System Corp H-2 Tanegashima, Japan
Orbital Sciences Pegasus/Taurus Wallops Island Flight Facility, VA & Cape Canaveral CA
SeaLaunch Modified Zenit Pacific Ocean platform
Yuzhnoe (Ukraine) Zenit 2 Baikonut, Khazakhstan

Next up; the AMERICOM-15 (AMC-15) satellite of SES AMERICOM, which has been delivered to the Baikonur Cosmodrome to be prepared for its scheduled September 24 launch aboard a Proton launch vehicle.

The hybrid Ku-band/Ka-band satellite will operate from 105 West and support advanced video and broadband services for EchoStar Communications.

AMC-15 will feature one of America s first operating Ka-band payloads, carrying 12 -125 MHz Ka-band spot beams, along with 24 – 36 MHz, 140 watt Ku-band transponders. As the first satellite dedicated to AMERICOM2Home, the spacecraft has been optimized to provide both Direct-to-Home video and broadband services into a single dish.

After the launch, SES AMERICOM will complete the testing of all spacecraft systems and ready the satellite for service from 105 West by EchoStar s DISH Network. The satellite will cover CONUS, plus Hawaii and Alaska.

“This is an awesome accomplishment, being the only U.S. expendable launch vehicle series to have had 100 percent success throughout its entire lifespan,” said Mark Albrecht, president of the Atlas marketing firm International Launch Services. “The Atlas team is an incredible group of people who make mission success for our customers a way of life.”

Posted by Sam Churchill on Monday, August 30th, 2004 at 6:27 am .

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