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Tracking Satellites That Aren't There 66

stacybro writes "Wired is running an interesting article about amateur astronomers tracking "black" satellites." From the article: "The observers, who congregate on a Web site called Heavens-Above and a mailing list called SeeSat-L, have amassed an impressive collection of information and expertise. For two decades, they have played a high tech game of hide-and-seek with the US's National Reconnaissance Office, a secretive satellite agency. By coordinating their efforts, amateur observers in Europe, North America, and South Africa monitor satellites at different phases of their journeys and extrapolate the precise dimensions of their orbits." This is in addition to the ones we know about and even the ones we think we know about.
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Tracking Satellites That Aren't There

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  • Misunderestimated? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by warmgun ( 669556 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:16PM (#14619892)
    I sometimes wonder, when I read stories like this, if the government is smarter than think. What if these "holes" in national security are just bones the government is throwing to the public to make them seem like they can't hide anything? Just a wacky conspiracy theory for a boring Wednesday afternoon.
  • by dhakbar ( 783117 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:18PM (#14619928)
    "Time and time again security through obscurity has proven to be a fallacy."

    Well, it did slow the process down by a pretty long time. For the military, that's often a very important advantage.
  • by Fnordulicious ( 85996 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @05:21PM (#14619948) Homepage
    You don't appear to have read the article.

    Knowing where spy satellites are is vital if you're trying to hide something. Since even the US doesn't have and can't afford a globe covering spy satellite system a la Iridium, the eye in the sky can't be watching you every minute of the day. Thus if you know the orbits of the spy satellites you can time things to keep your unpleasant business a secret. Even if you don't know where *all* of the satellites are, knowing where some of them are is better than nothing.

    Consider the situation where you want to move a pile of refined weapon-grade plutonium out of your nuclear power station reactor. It's not something you're supposed to be doing, since that reactor is ostensibly for power generation, not for armament production. You don't exactly want to do this when people are watching because it's rather obvious when you park a big shielded truck outside your reactor and load the plutonium onto it. So you want to pick a time that the bird's eye won't be watching, or at least when it won't get a good view of what's going on. This will keep you from having to answer to the IAEA or the UN or any other nuclear busybodies. This worked pretty well for India.
  • by cnflctd ( 69843 ) <tom...j...lambrecht@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @07:32PM (#14621434)
    israeli Ofeq [wikipedia.org] spy satellites are launced into retrograde orbits to avoid dropping into unfriendly countries.
  • by Ximok ( 650049 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:15PM (#14622487)
    Here are the names, locations, and frequencies of all the US Spy Satellites:

    Freq Az Dir Velocity Alt
    [Edited by NSA]
    [Edited by NSA]
    [Edited by NSA]
    [Edited by NSA]
    [Edited by NSA]
    [Edited by NSA]

    Maybe it's one thing to find this stuff out for yourself, but posting it online?
    Thats just giving away information. Of course, there are some 8,000 man made objects in orbit right now that are tracked by our government... most of it is just trash though.
    http://www.stratcom.mil/fact_sheets/fact_spc.html [stratcom.mil]
  • by gmiller123456 ( 240000 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @11:24PM (#14622893) Homepage
    A government agency of any size will be able to afford radar to track our sattelites. These provide much more accurate and instantaneous data than what individual video observations can provide.
    Here's a report [globalsecurity.org] on the NOSS sattelites with a wealth of information about the sats that no amateur could ever get.

    While individual terrorists probably don't have the resources (beyond heavens-above) to track sattelites, they probably aren't moving things obvious enough to matter anyway.
  • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Thursday February 02, 2006 @03:08AM (#14623832) Homepage
    There's an extra iridium sat or two up there. I went out to view a flare, and saw it.... but it was brighter than I was expecting. Less than a minute later I saw the real flare.
  • by FTL ( 112112 ) <slashdot.neil@fraser@name> on Thursday February 02, 2006 @06:13AM (#14624273) Homepage
    > A similar-to-geosynchronous orbit (equatorial, same distance)
    > in the opposite direction should keep you close to permanent
    > daylight if the satellite starts in the proper position, yes?

    What you describe won't work. Your satellite would orbit Earth once a day, backwards.

    What you are looking for is to position your satellite at the Earth-Sun Lagrange point [everything2.org] (hard-core space geeks will gripe that it should be orbiting L1, but let's keep it simple). That's much further away than geo-sync, so you won't get very good views of specific targets on Earth.

    However you'll get one heck of a good view of the whole Earth. That's what Triana [nasa.gov] was suposed to do. A webcam for our planet, streaming live 24h/day. Unfortunately Triana was Al Gore's pet project. The spacecraft was designed, built and tested when the Democrats were in power. Then George Bush 'won' the election. Out of spite, Triana was ordered removed [spaceref.com] from the launch schedule. Due to politics, it is quietly rusting [globalsecurity.org] in a storage container.

    BTW, the launch which Triana was scheduled to ride was STS 107, Columbia's final flight.

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