Re: Very Unlikely

Message posted by Griffon_314 on November 12, 2013 at 16:30:17 PST:

Sorry - I misread your question yesterday, and thought you were asking about classified launches in general.

Shuttle launches that were allocated to "classified" payloads were subject to extensive analysis and tracking, usually leading to reasonably accurate estimates of the orbital characteristics of the payload, and eventual tracking.

One notable exception is STS-38. This 1990 Atlantis mission was described by NASA as launching a "classified DoD payload", USA-67, which was tracked and initially thought to be a MAGNUM ELINT satellite (but later turned out to be a QUASAR (SDS) bird).

However, some very good work by the amateur observer community eventually figured out that STS-38 also launched a second satellite ("PROWLER") that reached geosynchronous orbit and used visual stealth features to carry out inspection of other geosynch satellites. (Visual? RF? Other?)

Eventually, PROWLER was moved to a parking orbit out of view of the main Russian optical tracking stations, and its visual stealth feature(s) were deactivated, allowing observers to spot it, analyze its orbit, and deduce its source as STS-38.

DoD/NRO went to *extreme* lengths to hide the launch of PROWLER, and appear to have been successful - at least, the amateur community didn't spot it - its unknown if the Russians spotted it earlier.

1990 also saw the first of several MISTY satellites launched - but the launches were not secret, the payloads and ultimate orbits were. This is a much more common pattern that what happened with PROWLER.

There has also been speculation that short-life payloads could have been deployed attached to spent boosters/transfer stages/etc...impossible to know if this occurred, but its certainly a possibility.

In Reply to: Re: Very Unlikely posted by Eagle Scout on November 11, 2013 at 10:38:01 PST:


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