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Who watches the watchers? Keeping tabs on classified satellites: Proof of concept

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posted on Jan, 8 2016 @ 06:12 PM
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Amateur tracking of classified satellites is not a new pastime or achievement. There's an entire group of amateur astronomers devoted to keeping tabs on the many classified satellites that fly over our heads every day. You can download the latest orbital elements straight from Mike McCants' website.
www.prismnet.com...

To the eye, even the brightest and largest classified satellites just look like rapidly moving stars crossing the night sky. On its own, the orbital elements only tell you when the satellite will be overhead, and perhaps the general mission of the satellite (some satellites are positioned to pass over particular sites in recurring patterns, or to pass over sites at the same time of day on multiple days, etc). It doesn't really tell you where the spysat is looking or who it's spying on though.

Since we know their orbits, we can program our telescopes to track them directly based on those orbital elements, and image the satellites at high magnification. Larger spy satellites can even be directly resolved as more than "point-like" light sources in large amateur telescopes, revealing their actual shapes as well as some interesting "behavior."
www.astrophoto.fr...

Some satellites like the infamous "Misty" satellite have the capacity to "stealth" themselves against known observers and at least temporarily reduce their visibility. Others tend to maneuver on a regular basis and may even come into close contact with other satellites. But who exactly are they spying on? Are US satellites really only used to spy on foreign nations? In recent years scandals have come to light about NSA spying of US citizens and just last month it was revealed that the president used the NSA to spy on communications between the US congress and Netanyahu despire previous promises to discontinue spying on the leaders of our allies:
www.nationalreview.com...

But what of spy satellites? Would we even know if they were being used for domestic as well as international spying? In some cases the answer is yes (if the satellite is placed in a geosynchronous orbit which never comes over the US), but in many cases the answer right now seems to be "no." There was a washington post article late in the Bush administration that hinted at the use of spy satellites for domestic surveillance (www.washingtonpost.com... ). How might we find out whether this is still going on, and how common or widespread is its activity?

Well if you were to use a telescope to directly resolve a large spy satellite in a low orbit, like a Keyhole satellite, you could at least tell if it was pointed down at the ground while over US soil. If you could track it over several minutes and determine if it is actively tracking the earth below (or even better, a fixed point on the ground), you could prove the existence of domestic spying with assets that were at one time only supposed to be used for international espionage. A while ago I tracked the Hubble Space Telescope at high magnification as a "positive control" proof of concept to see whether it was possible to validate the direction HST was supposed to be pointed at the time that I tracked it. Although spy satellites have been tracked and resolved by amateurs like Thierry Legault and others, to date I don't know of any who have tried to correlate their apparent attitude in the image to the absolute pointing direction in space.

With telescopes there is no fixed direction for the typical camera, you can turn it around inside the telescope freely and the telescope itself usually flips or mirrors the view, making such determinations difficult for other observers reviewing footage without knowing the specifics of how the camera was oriented. By controlling these factors ahead of time, the person recording the footage can of course determine the true orientation of the object they're viewing and at least approximately validate the direction the object is pointed.



For spy satellites we of course will not have any pointing information to correlate against the observations post-hoc, but it should be possible with a number of these satellites to at least determine in general whether they are pointed towards earth during the time they are flying over the US, and whether they appear to be actively tracking the ground below or if they are simply in "free drift" or a fixed attitude with respect to the ground. I want to start taking a look at this and see to what extent spy satellites appear to be conducting operations while over the US. What do you guys think? Which class of satellites offer the most promise for independent monitoring? Keyhole? Lacrosse? The X-37B? Or perhaps another more exotic spy satellite? Or is this just a terrible idea that's going to get me spirited away to Gitmo?
edit on 8-1-2016 by ngchunter because: (no reason given)




posted on Jan, 8 2016 @ 07:02 PM
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A fine, interesting post about a reality that opens a large can o' worms, but I'd offer that satellites are the least of our problems with domestic spying ... ones' phone, tablet and xbox might be better places to start... but your last sentence's rhetorical question is likely answered "yes."



posted on Jan, 9 2016 @ 03:37 AM
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related info; recently declassified 'Dorian' sky spy program

news.discovery.com...

"While the program never actually lofted a crewed space station, those nearly six years were quite eventful, featuring the selection of 17 MOL astronauts, the remodeling of NASA’s two-seat Gemini spacecraft, the development of the Titan-3C launch vehicle and the building of an MOL launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California."
(I wanted to start a thread on this but can't start threads yet.)

I've seen a few sats, real interesting. Should I wave at them or hide?



posted on Jan, 9 2016 @ 03:57 AM
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a reply to: ngchunter

i have never seen a real satellite in orbit, the pictures they show are composites, unless im mistaken. whom has a real pic



posted on Jan, 9 2016 @ 04:27 AM
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originally posted by: DOCHOLIDAZE1
a reply to: ngchunter

i have never seen a real satellite in orbit,

If you look up on any clear night, you have a chance of seeing one or two with your own eyes. They look like non-twinkling stars that move steadily across the sky. Better yet, if you use a website like www.heavens-above.com... and specify your location and timezone, you can get predictions for satellites passing over your location.

Personally, I have seen dozens of satellites, as well as the International Space Station.


the pictures they show are composites, unless im mistaken. whom has a real pic

What kind of pictures are you talking about? Lots of people took pictures of satellites with their cameras and even telescopes (as shown in OP's link).



posted on Jan, 9 2016 @ 04:48 AM
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a reply to: ngchunter

This is a great OP and as thought-provoking as anyone could ask for. Who watches the watchers? That's the question we all ask and the sad answer is: the watchers watch the watchers.

Inspired by your comment about Misty, I had a quick look and it was the budget that caught my attention - estimated $11.9 billion. I'm not going to criticise that figure or make that simplistic clichéd point about it being better spent elsewhere. It's back to the 'watchers' and how they determine value for that money. What information is worth so many billions? Who has oversight to weigh up the cost versus benefit of projects like that?

The obvious justification for a 'Misty' is national security, secure borders and international vigilance. Who can argue with that? Then I ask myself about the others in use by NSA and the question of value crosses my mind again. Is there a 'just in case' value in the equation which trumps all other methods of weighing the benefits?

Whatever the answers are, I would imagine there's a persuasive case to be made that such satellites are used (just in case) to pay as much attention to North America as they do to China, Russia or NK. It might sound something like, 'C'mon, they're going past anyway. It's wasteful of resources if we disable surveillance over America. Besides, domestic attacks can happen too.'




I want to start taking a look at this and see to what extent spy satellites appear to be conducting operations while over the US. What do you guys think? Which class of satellites offer the most promise for independent monitoring? Keyhole? Lacrosse? The X-37B? Or perhaps another more exotic spy satellite? Or is this just a terrible idea that's going to get me spirited away to Gitmo?


I imagine (I'm an ignoramus compared to you) that all spysats are somewhat similar to the PRISM system in continuously hoovering up information. Most of which will likely be stored raw in secret server farms. What I mean is we can probably take it for granted that they will be spying. Five-eyes are always watching...

Thierry Legault might get by posting imagery of the X-37B because he's based in France and has a French domain for the website. I fear that you would not get a pass and attract some hostility from unexpected places. What if you posted more about this or eventually post similar images to Legault? Would the cost be confiscated equipment? Sadly, I honestly think that's the risk you would run.

Those 'watchers' are like hammers in a world of nails.



posted on Jan, 9 2016 @ 04:07 PM
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originally posted by: DOCHOLIDAZE1
a reply to: ngchunter

i have never seen a real satellite in orbit, the pictures they show are composites, unless im mistaken. whom has a real pic


That's a fun thing to do in Summer. Go out somewhere away from city lights, then just listen on Shortwave radio. Look up on the sky and you'll see a faint star just moving all the way from one horizon to the other within minutes. Sometimes, we'd get a world radio, listen to the SW frequencies, and hear the satellite chirping away.

Here's a real photograph of an astronaut repairing a satellite:

s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com...
( Dale A. Gardner, in the face, as he attempts to attach a control device to the Westar 6 satellite)



posted on Jan, 12 2016 @ 08:38 AM
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originally posted by: DOCHOLIDAZE1
a reply to: ngchunter

i have never seen a real satellite in orbit, the pictures they show are composites, unless im mistaken. whom has a real pic

Tons of amateurs have real pictures, to so nothing of NASA or any other government agency. My own avatar is one such example. The video I posted of Hubble is another. And of course there's Thierry Legault's excellent pictures as well.



posted on Jan, 12 2016 @ 08:47 AM
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originally posted by: Kandinsky
a reply to: ngchunter

This is a great OP and as thought-provoking as anyone could ask for. Who watches the watchers? That's the question we all ask and the sad answer is: the watchers watch the watchers.

Inspired by your comment about Misty, I had a quick look and it was the budget that caught my attention - estimated $11.9 billion. I'm not going to criticise that figure or make that simplistic clichéd point about it being better spent elsewhere. It's back to the 'watchers' and how they determine value for that money. What information is worth so many billions? Who has oversight to weigh up the cost versus benefit of projects like that?

The ability to hide a satellite so that foreign nations would not know when it was overhead and when their assets were vulnerable to spying was no doubt considered a highly valuable benefit. Stealth aircraft are similar in cost, but of course there's a big difference between a weapon and a glorified camera. In the end it was decided to cancel the Misty program. It's a decision made by intelligence directors and congress.
www.nytimes.com...


The obvious justification for a 'Misty' is national security, secure borders and international vigilance. Who can argue with that? Then I ask myself about the others in use by NSA and the question of value crosses my mind again. Is there a 'just in case' value in the equation which trumps all other methods of weighing the benefits?

Whatever the answers are, I would imagine there's a persuasive case to be made that such satellites are used (just in case) to pay as much attention to North America as they do to China, Russia or NK. It might sound something like, 'C'mon, they're going past anyway. It's wasteful of resources if we disable surveillance over America. Besides, domestic attacks can happen too.'

Thierry Legault might get by posting imagery of the X-37B because he's based in France and has a French domain for the website. I fear that you would not get a pass and attract some hostility from unexpected places. What if you posted more about this or eventually post similar images to Legault? Would the cost be confiscated equipment? Sadly, I honestly think that's the risk you would run.

Those 'watchers' are like hammers in a world of nails.


That is a very serious risk for me. Still, I imagine there are a number of major media outlets who would love to report a story about an amateur astronomer harassed by the government for daring to reveal domestic spying activity. Perhaps the consequences are worth it if the truth can be exposed?
edit on 12-1-2016 by ngchunter because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 12 2016 @ 08:54 AM
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For some reason it's not letting me quote you ElGoobero, but I just wanted to say that the MOL program is of deep interest to me, particularly since my late grandfather worked on the Titan IIIC launcher out at the Cape. I just inherited a number of items related to the Titan IIIC launcher in the last two weeks that I plan to digitize. Some of it is pretty mundane, some of it is extremely rare (like his work helmet with the Titan IIIC logo on it) and some of it is very interesting (like schematics of the propellant tanks).



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