Monday, April 18, 2011

Secret satellites, 04.18.11

It goes without saying, but the Pacific Ocean is huge. So, it would make an excellent place to "de-orbit" classified government spy satellites, says Ted Molczan of Toronto, an expert satellite tracker and part of a global sky watching effort.

Lacrosse 2, a classified government spy satellite, is one of five extremely large instruments used to take special radar images- even through clouds. Supposed to be a secret, the Lacrosse 2 is covered in "gold-colored kapton insulation blankets," which makes it reflect light with an "orange-red hue." This not only makes it easy to spot with a decent telescope or binoculars, but also plain pretty to look at for sky watchers. Whoopsie. So much for secrets.

So, when reports slowly started coming in from around the world in March that the Lacrosse 2 had gone MIA, the hunt to spot it again began in earnest, but to no avail. While it is possible that the gigantic satellite had been drastically maneuvered to another orbit, that is not probable, said Molczan. According to him, big orbital changes usually are not made by such huge satellites. Molczan theorizes that the satellite was “de-orbited” back to Earth, most likely a remote region of the Pacific Ocean, where any surviving pieces could be recovered by reconnaissance teams.

So why carefully plot and direct their path instead of just dropping them to Earth or leaving them floating about in space? Well, they are spy satellites after all; to just drop it could compromise national security, according to Molczan. It would not be surprising if Lacrosse 2 had been retired, though; it has been in orbit for an astounding 20 years. The model depicted here is probably similar to the Lacrosse 2, according to

Image credit: National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

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