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After 30 years and 135 missions, it's curtains for NASA's Space Shuttle. The Shuttle Atlantis blasted off on Friday for one last rendezvous with the International Space Station, bringing to an end the current era of impressive -- but pricey and dangerous -- manned spaceflight. But never fear! America's space arsenal might be down four giant Shuttles, but there's still plenty of U.S. government hardware orbiting the Earth, much of it top secret.
Counting commercial satellites with government missions, Washington has access to around 400 spacecraft -- four times as many as the number-two space power, Moscow. U.S. spacecraft include communications satellites, orbital cameras and other sensors, craft designed to eavesdrop on radio traffic and at least one secretive, robotic space plane similar to in shape to the retiring Shuttle. Here's a sampling of some of the "blackest" of America's secret space fleet.
Radar in space. That, in a nutshell, is the function of the Lacrosse family of giant satellites, orbiting 400 miles over Earth since the late 1980s. Along with the equally-huge camera-equipped Keyholes, the Lacrosses provide most of America's day-to-day space-based intel. Keyholes are for good weather. Lacrosses, with the ability to see through clouds, are for overcast days. Working in a team, Keyholes and Lacrosses probably helped the CIA plan the May raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. How many of the billion-dollar Lacrosses are there? Probably three. Every few years the secretive National Reconnaissance updates the design and sends a fresh one into orbit, most recently in September, according to some sources. One recent version spotted by amateur sat-tracker John Locker might even come equipped with a sensor dish for gathering up radio signals, essentially mapping a target's electromagnetic signature while also painting a picture of its physical surroundings.
The fair-weather partner of the Lacrosse, Keyhole is what people are actually visualizing when they think "spy satellite." Keyholes are basically telescopes pointed toward Earth instead space. In fact, it seems that NASA modeled the Hubble Space Telescope on the Keyhole's design. There are probably around five 20-ton, $2-billion Keyholes in 150-mile orbit, the latest placed there in January by a Delta IV Heavy rocket launched from California. (That blast-off was so loud that Air Force officials had to tell local inhabitants it wasn't an earthquake.) Washington loves its Keyholes so much it has been building them nonstop since the mid-1970s
It could be a figment of the collective imagination of the world's amateur satellite trackers. It could be hype by an author hoping to sell books. Or it could be the world's most secretive spy satellite, an ostensibly undetectable version of the old-school Keyhole orbital camera. "Misty," as it's known by space enthusiasts, was allegedly an attempt by the CIA's Office of Development and Engineering to develop a spacecraft that couldn't be tracked by Soviet trackers, or attacked by Moscow's anti-satellite weapons.
Today, the so-called Naval Ocean Surveillance System is in its third generation. Each $800-million constellation of two or three satellites is launched by a single rocket into low orbit -- low enough that they're frequently mistaken for alien spaceships by panicked Earthlings (see above). These low-fliers don't last last long: just a few years, meaning the Navy is constantly updating them and boosting more into orbit -- quietly, of course. NOSS is one of the Navy's huge but unheralded advantages over rival navies. It's not for no reason that some of China's first modern military satellites were basically copies of the Navy system. Beijing needed some way to spot American aircraft carriers so it could target them with DF-21 ballistic missiles
Some spy satellites watch with cameras or radars. Others listen. The five Mentor satellites, possibly built by TRW, are what's known as "SIGINT" craft -- that stands for "signals intelligence." The geosynchronous Mentors are the latest in a long line of SIGINT birds dating back to the '80s. Originally built to suck up communications from Soviet missiles tests, today they can eavesdrop on radios, radars and pretty much any device that broadcasts a strong enough signal.
The key to this sensitivity is one monster set of ears. The Mentors aren't heavy -- just three tons or so. But their receiver dishes are huge. A modified Mentor launched in November boasts the biggest receptor of them all: roughly the size of the football field, making it "the largest satellite in the world," according to NRO director Bruce Carlson.
Originally posted by Aliensun
I'm afraid I will have to place this thread as a dis/misinformation attempt.
Surely, surely anyone that has half a brain can connect the dots between the mysterious black triangles as being our hidden space efforts to replace the shuttle and ISS.
Russia’s Energia Space Corporation is developing a Manned Spacecraft to Repair Satellites IN Orbit and sweep up satellite debris from space around the Earth. The spacecraft will be launched from the Vostochny cosmodrome in 2015.
The spacecraft will take a two-man crew who will make space walks and replace blocks of the satellites or use a mechanical hand to do so. The cosmonauts will fly for two weeks, says a consultant to the president of the Energia Corporation, Victor Sinyavsky. The defunct satellites pose great danger. They should be collected into a special vehicle and drowned them in the ocean on earth. This method will help to clean up the space from debris.
Originally posted by Pervius
We've been shooting at each other in space.
There's no way the US would go without some manned spaceflight platform.
My guess is the Navy's new degaussing system for their ships using superconducting ceramics actually makes their ships defy gravity....
And the US Navy already has had the ability to put people into Space. Imagine them taking the new Ford Class Aircraft Carrier into low earth orbit...maybe that's why everything is automated on it....
Wouldn't that be neat?