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Imagine there’s no heaven…it’s easy if you try.
No hell below us…above us only sky
(MP3)
– George Bush sings

Sometime between 8:00 and 10:30 p.m. tonight, a spy satellite payload may be launched from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40. A 9-minute, 30-second ascent is expected to deliver a National Reconnaissance Office radar imaging satellite into an inclined orbit.

UPDATE: IT HAS BEEN LAUNCHED. Satellite Observers have the orbit details while Heavens-Above plots the track. Wave when it’s scheduled to pass over.

Space watchers have speculated that the clandestine cargo nestled inside the rocket’s 66-foot long nose cone could be the fifth in a series of radar imaging spacecraft, commonly called LACROSSE inside the 20 story tall Titan 4B.

The NRO was formed more than 40 years ago from military and CIA to collect critical intelligence. The synthetic aperture radar system can operate in both daylight and darkness and see through clouds, detect objects a few feet across and even reveal underground structures.

Space-Based Radar, by contrast, delivers continuous location information, requiring a 17,000 pound payload in a 100 Mile, 63-degree orbit. The Space Radar program would use a constellation of 10 to 24 satellites by 2012 to track everything below, from planes to tanks to individual people.

The first and third radar imaging satellites, using radar to capture images, were placed into 57-degree inclination orbits, which means the craft fly as far north and south of the equator as 57 degrees latitude. The second and fourth LACROSSEs were placed into 68-degree orbits to cover more of the planet. Active radar is the opposite of stealth. PocketSat for Pocket PC can track it.

Although the targeted inclination for Friday’s launch has not been disclosed, hazard warnings issued to mariners and Canadian oil platforms confirm the Titan 4 is headed up the Atlantic seaboard.

Rarely 2-3 hours go by, it is believed, without at least one of the current 15-ton spacecraft obtaining imagery somewhere over Iraq, although 12 specific overflights per day have viewing angles that provide the highest resolution pictures.

Lacrosse can track moving vehicles, locate bunkers up to three meters underground and submerged submarines at periscope depth (40 to 50 feet). The NRO tries to keep two Lacrosse systems in orbit at all times, with one tasked for oceanic surveillance. It is said to have a 48 foot long, 12 foot wide rectangular radar antenna and a 150 foot long solar panel, suggesting an output power of 10-20 kilowatts.

This liftoff ends the Titan era at Cape Canaveral after five decades of flights, including Titan 1 missiles, Titan 2 boosters launching Gemini astronauts, Titan 3s with Viking and Voyager, Titan 34D carrying critical military satellites and the past 16 years of Titan 4.

The NRO, known for legendary waste, hopes to make space the 21st Century battleground.

But the military’s new rocket program, designed to launch more than 20 tons into space, is $14.44 billion over budget and counting, raising questions about how long taxpayers can subsidize two of America’s biggest aerospace companies to keep them in the launch business, reports Florida Today.

Boeing is more than a year behind schedule and billions over budget on their NRO spy satellite contract, forcing the government to shift an estimated $4 billion from other spy programs.

The EELV program (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle), was created after the military’s space truck (the Shuttle), proved expensive and unreliable. The EELV program includes two heavy lifters; Lockheed’s Atlas 5 and Boeing’s Delta IV Heavy. They will provide the U.S. government’s primary heavy-lifting needs for the foreseeable future. Patrick Air Force Base, at Cape Canaveral, provides Lockheed’s International Launch Services with Atlas V launch support.

Boeing and the Air Force opened up a new Vandenburg facility for their EELV this Wednesday.

The humongous hangar at Space Launch Complex-6, on south Vandenberg Air Force Base, will be the launchpad for polar orbits using Boeing’s new EELV, the Delta IV.

It will compete with Lockheed’s EELV, the Atlas V. Both are expected to loose billions.

Boeing and Lockheed guessed that commercial space launches would amoritize EELV development costs.

They guessed wrong. Taxpayers now subsidize both of them.

Perhaps not incidently, Lockheed reported a 27 percent increase in its first-quarter profit this week and raised its 2005 revenue forecast.


“At each Titan launch, I have always had the feeling I was standing too close.”

- Dennis Fitzgerald, acting director, NRO


Vandenberg hosts the final Titan 4 launch in July before it shifts to the new Titan 5 EELV. The July launch at Vandenburg is expected to be another NRO payload. The satellite will be shrouded inside a “modified version of a standard Titan 76-foot payload fairing.” Such a nose cone has never been used on the previous 11 Titan 4s from the West Coast. The most interesting may be the EELVs from Florida launching 100 meter antennas for NRO’s “big ears”.

Lacrosse s data recorder may need to dump several hundred megabits-per-second within a 3 minute window as it passes over ground stations. It can also relay data via SDS or TDRS satellites.

The TDRS-J relay satellite features the following capabilities:

  • S-band Single Access: Two 15-foot diameter steerable antennas, used at the 2.0 to 2.3 GHz (gigahertz) band, supply robust communications to user satellites with smaller antennas and receive telemetry from expendable launch vehicles during launch.
  • Ku-band Single Access: The same two antennas, operating from 13.7 to 15.0 GHz, provide higher bandwidth for user satellites, provide high-resolution digital television for Space Shuttle video communications and can quickly transfer large volumes of data from tape or solid-state data recorders aboard “NASA scientific spacecraft” (quotes mine).
  • Ka-band Single Access: This new higher-frequency service, which operates from 22.5 to 27.5 Gigahertz and increases data rate capabilities to 800 megabits per second, will provide communications for future missions requiring higher bandwidths such as multi-spectral instruments for Earth science applications.
  • Multiple Access: This system is capable of receiving signals from five user spacecraft simultaneously at rates up to 3 megabits per second, while transmitting to a single user at up to 300 kilobits per second. The system operates using a phased-array antenna in the 2.0 to 2.3 GHz range.

The follow-on to the Delta IV, Boeing’s Delta IV Heavy (above), can place 50,000 pounds in low-Earth orbit or close to 30,000 pounds in geosynch orbit, more than twice the 12,700 pounds geo payload of the Delta IV being phased out. The Pentagon plans to spend some $5 billion this decade on 15 rocket launches. When Boeing announced their Decatur Delta IV rocket factory in 1997, it projected a $400 million investment would create 2,300 jobs. Boeing employs less than 600 local workers today and the future looks bleak.

The EELVs could be a $20 billion white elephant. Nobody wants giant satellites anymore. Too risky. Insurance has skyrocketed while the market has plumeted. Investment bankers run the major international satellite carriers now. Fiber optics and broadband wireless deliver more bang for the buck.

There is no demand for a big launcher right now or in the next five years,” said Phil McAlister, an industry analyst. “None of the private-equity guys [who have purchased several large commercial satellite operators] are looking at monster satellites, especially if the only ride is on a relatively unproven rocket”.

Autonomous aircraft are less predictable and immediately useful to people getting shot. Fiber networks, like i2i’s 8.4 Terabit global network (above), are orders of magnitude faster and cheaper.

Blimps and Balloons and Low Earth Orbit satellites are sometimes used for radar platforms or 100-200 mile, handheld-to-handheld communications. In Iraq, blimps with fiber optic tethers are used.

High Altitude Airships that station-keep high in the stratosphere are also planned. In 2006, a prototype airship will be positioned over Akron, Ohio. Sanswire hopes to provide voice, video, and broadband Internet access to all parts of the country.



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

Jonathan’s Space Report has a Table of Recent Launches

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 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?”

John Negroponte, nominated to be the nation’s first Director of National Intelligence (DNI), has his work cut out for him if the Intelligence Reform Act is to have any positive benefit, said speakers at the National Space Symposium.

Representatives from Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense and industry contractors said there is no guarantee that a boss placed above the CIA director will demonstrate any immediate advantage for technical intelligence agencies such as National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office or the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Nukes are spreading. The best defense could be more friends. Criminal waste just weakens us.

Orbital Sciences has additional links. Related DailyWireless articles include; Rocket Welfare, Space Mist, Stealth Satellites, Space Balls, Intelsat-7 Goes Dark, Pacific Satellites Fail, NRO Rides Again, Stratellite, Battle Blimps, Mars: Dead or Alive, Off Shore Data Links, Future Crimes: MATRIX, Unwired in Hawaii and The Global Grid.

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