Secret In The Sky

Round and round the Earth it goes, who or what it’s spying on very few people know.

Delta 4 rocket successfully lofts surveillance satellite

A Delta 4 rocket made a thunderous departure from California on Tuesday afternoon, only to slip into a news blackout minutes later while it climbed higher and faster to deploy a classified spy satellite, a success-defining milestone that was confirmed by hobbyist observers.

The United Launch Alliance-made booster roared away from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 4:12:57 p.m. local (7:12:57 p.m. EDT; 2312:57 GMT) on a southwesterly course to reach a retrograde orbit inclined 123 degrees relative to the equator.

. . .

The hush-hush nature for the rest of flight is all part of launching covert payloads for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, the secretive agency that operates the country’s fleet of spy satellites. The NRO does not disclose the purpose of its spacecraft being sent up on each launch, saying only that the flight was called the NROL-25 mission.

See also:
Rocket Launches Secret Spy Satellite for US Military
United Launch Alliance Delta IV Rocket Successfully Launches Payload for the National Reconnaissance Office
United Launch Alliance Delta IV Rocket Successfully Launches Payload for the National Reconnaissance Office
US launches new spy satellite NROL-25
Delta 4 lifts off
Spy satellite-carrying rocket blasts off
U.S. rocket carrying classified payload launches
ULA Successfully Launches Delta IV Rocket
Rocket carrying classified payload launches from California’s central coast
Rocket launch includes key parts from Utah’s ATK sites
List of NRO Launches
National Reconnaissance OfficeNational Reconnaissance Office

According to the listed launch designation, NROL-25 is a radar imaging satellite operating in a retrograde low Earth orbit.

/if I had to guess what it’s looking at, I’d guess Iran

Two Up, Two Down

This is the second failed flight for the HTV-2, at $160 million per splash.

DARPA issues statement on failed flight of hypersonic aircraft

The Falcon launched at 7:45 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara, into the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere aboard an eight-story Minotaur IV rocket, made by Orbital Sciences Corp.

After reaching an undisclosed sub-orbital altitude, the aircraft jettisoned from its protective cover atop the rocket, then nose-dived back toward Earth, leveled out and began to glide above the Pacific at 20 times the speed of sound, or Mach 20.

Then the trouble began.

“Here’s what we know,” said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA’s program manager. “We know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight. We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight. It’s vexing; I’m confident there is a solution. We have to find it.”

See also:
Pentagon’s hypersonic flight test cut short by anomaly
Pentagon’s Mach 20 Missile Lost Over Pacific — Again
DARPA drops another HTV-2
Second Flop: DARPA Loses Contact With HTV-2
DARPA Launches and Loses Hypersonic Aircraft: Update
The Air Force Loses a Second Superfast Spaceplane
Falcon HTV-2 is lost during bid to become fastest ever plane
Falcon hypersonic vehicle test flight fails
Review Board Sets Up to Probe HTV-2 L
DARPA loses contact with hypersonic aircraft
Lost at sea. Military loses contact with hypersonic test plane
Misdirection, Always Watch What The Left Hand Is Doing

So, in order to find out what went wrong, the Air Force needs to find this tiny HTV-2 drone, that they lost contact with, somewhere in the vast Pacific ocean. Good luck with that, they never lost the first one the dunked.

/why do I get the feeling there’s not going to be a third time?

Splish Splash, Glory Takes A Bath

Apparently, Russia isn’t the only country that can pitch multi-million dollar satellites into the ocean.

NASA’s Glory satellite launch fails

A rocket, standing more than nine stories tall, blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base but failed to lift a NASA Earth-observation satellite into orbit and plummeted into the Pacific Ocean. The failed mission cost $424 million, the space agency said.

It is the second consecutive time that NASA has encountered the problem with the Taurus XL rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

NASA scientists believe the launch on Friday failed because the satellite’s protective cover, which opens like a clamshell, did not separate as expected.

“Obviously, this is a terrific disappointment and we feel bad for letting NASA … down,” said Barron Beneski, an Orbital Sciences spokesman. “People have dedicated years of their lives into this.”

NASA’s Glory satellite was designed to help scientists understand how the sun and particles of matter in the atmosphere called aerosols affect the Earth’s climate. It was also built by Orbital in Virginia.

See also:
Pesky Nose-Cone Problem Downs NASA’s Glory Satellite
NASA’s Glory Satellite Crashes in Pacific; Agency Blames Nose Cone
NASA science satellite lost in $424 million launch failure
NASA’s ‘Glory’ research satellite plunges into the sea
Glory climate satellite fails: information & reactions$424 million satellite mission deemed a failure
NASA research satellite plunges into the sea
Climate-Tracker Satellite Crashes During Launch
New Satellite Crashes Into Ocean After Launch
NASA’s Glory mission fails to reach orbit (photos)
Kentucky satellite lost in rocket failure
Glory (satellite)
Glory Mission
Glory

Gee, you’d think NASA would have figured out what the problem was after the first time it happened. It’s more than embarrassing, not to mention incredibly expensive, to have the exact same failure occur twice in a row.

/oh well, I suppose it could have been worse, at least it wasn’t a human payload

Melior Diabolus Quem Scies

On top of a Delta 4-Heavy rocket, the largest rocket ever launched from the West Coast, the NRO’s NROL-49 spy satellite is off to orbit on a classified “national security” mission.

Massive Rocket Blasts Off on Probable Spy Mission

The largest rocket ever to blast off from the West Coast launched into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Thursday afternoon.

The most powerful launch rocket in the U.S., the Delta IV Heavy, took off a little after 1 p.m. Pacific Time carrying a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spy satellite called NROL-49.

“This launch marks a significant milestone in our nation’s space capability,” launch director Lt. Col. Brady Hauboldt said in a press release. “We’ve really restored a national capability for heavy lift on the Western Range… This extends our ability to cost-effectively deliver payloads of all sizes and compliments.”

According to the United Launch Alliance (ULA), the organization that is running the launch for NRO, “this launch supports the military’s national defense mission.” However, that’s about all of the information that has been publicly disclosed about the payload.

See also:
First Delta IV Heavy launches from Vandenberg
Vandenberg rocket: largest American rocket blasted off today on West Coast
Launch of giant rocket in Southern California heard for miles
23-story rocket launches U.S. spy satellite
Delta IV rocket launches from Vandenberg
First Delta IV Heavy blasts off from Vandenberg
New Spy Satellite Blasts Off on Secret Mission
Vandenberg launches Delta IV Heavy rocket
California: Rocket Launches With Secret Payload
Secret payload launched on largest West Coast rocket
Boeing: Delta – Delta IV Launch Vehicles
Delta IV
Vandenberg Air Force Base
Vandenberg Air Force Base
National Reconnaissance Office
National Reconnaissance Office

And, that’s about it. Except that it’s supposedly an imaging satellite, there’s not much use in speculating further. I’m just happy that it made it to orbit safely, our taxpayer dollars much better spent than on Obamacare.

/pretty pictures, NROL-49

The Mystery Toy Comes Home To Roost

The X-37B and it’s seven month mission are so secretive, not even Julian Assange knows what the hell it’s all about.

Secretive X-37B robot space plane returns to Earth

After seven months in space, the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B unmanned space plane returned to Earth today to wrap up a debut flight shrouded in secrecy.

The robotic X-37B space plane landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to end its maiden voyage. The space plane, also known as Orbital Test Vehicle 1, glided back to Earth over the Pacific Ocean before landing at the revamped Vandenberg runway at about 1:16 a.m. PST (0916 GMT) Dec. 3.

“Today’s landing culminates a successful mission based on close teamwork between the 30th Space Wing, Boeing and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office,” said Lt Col Troy Giese, X-37B program manager from the AFRCO, which oversaw the mission. “We are very pleased that the program completed all the on-orbit objectives for the first mission.”

See also:
Secret Space Plane Finally Lands; Twin Preps for Launch
A successful mission, but Air Force won’t say more
Air Force’s Secret Space Plane Lands In California
X-37B, which officially was not on a secret unmanned mission, returns from secret, unmanned mission
Secret X-37B Mini Space Shuttle Lands
US military spacecraft back on ground after 7 months
Unmanned X-37B spacecraft lands at VAFB
Unmanned X-37B Spacecraft Returns to Earth
X 37b Mini Space Shuttle Lands Safely
It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s A Mystery Toy!

Gee, I’m curious, I sure wish I knew what the X 37b program was all about. Acknowledging the existence of the program while keeping its purpose a secret is tantamount to teasing.

/where’s WikiLeaks when you really need them?

Misdirection, Always Watch What The Left Hand Is Doing

While everyone was busy watching the classified launch of the X-37B in Florida, the Air Force was up to even more classified hijinxs in Califiornia.

New Minotaur rocket launches on suborbital flight

A new Minotaur launch vehicle derived from retired missile parts successfully blasted off from the California coast Thursday, but officials lost contact with a hypersonic glider testbed for a U.S. military quick-response global strike system.

The Minotaur 4 booster, flying in a downsized three-stage configuration, launched on a suborbital mission at 4 p.m. local time (7 p.m. EDT; 2300 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 8 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The three-stage version of the launcher uses retired Peacekeeper missile motors. The configuration is called the Minotaur 4 Lite.

A small winged glider designed by Pentagon researchers was the payload for Thursday’s launch. The craft, called the Hypersonic Test Vehicle 2a, apparently did not complete all of its planned maneuvers to demonstrate new hypersonic flight systems.

“Preliminary review of technical data indicates the Minotaur Lite launch system successfully delivered the Falcon HTV 2 glide vehicle to the desired separation conditions,” the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said in a statement. “The launch vehicle executed first of its kind energy management maneuvers, clamshell payload fairing release and HTV 2 deployment.”

See also:
Air Force launches hypersonic glider over Pacific
DARPA confirms mission’s failure
U.S. Air Force launches back-to-back secret missions – coincidence?
Unmanned military space planes usher in new weaponry era
Hyperfast missile to hit anywhere in an hour
A weapon that can strike anywhere on Earth in 30 minutes
5 Ways to Kill Osama Bin Laden in 2 Hours or Less
DARPA’s Mach 20 Hypersonic Glider and Air Force’s X-37B Space Plane Make Their Debuts
First Minotaur IV launches with Hypersonic Test Vehicle
Obama administration spending billions on new global strike weapons
US moving towards ‘high-altitude’ weaponry era with Falcon, X-37B launches
DARPA Falcon HTV-2: Frequently Asked Questions

Taking the high ground with space weapons.

/hmmm, a Mach 20 glider, payloads anywhere on earth within an hour and there’s nothing you can do about it

It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s A Mystery Toy!

Air Force’s Mystery X-37B Space Plane Fuels Speculation

The U.S. Air Force is on the verge of showcasing a new and long-sought after spaceflight capacity with its X-37B space plane, but it will do so on a space mission that’s cloaked in secrecy.

What the X-37B mission truly portends is in the eye of the beholder, from a game-changing tool to hone military hardware to a provocative harbinger of things-to-come in terms of space warfare.

Now ready for an Atlas boost into Earth orbit from Florida on April 20, the reusable robotic X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) is a small space shuttle-like craft. The craft will wing its way into Earth orbit, remain aloft for an unspecified time, then high-tail its way back down to terra-firma – auto-piloting down to a landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, or at neighboring Edwards Air Force Base as back-up [more photos of the X-37B space plane].

The X37-B craft was built by Boeing’s Phantom Works with the mission run under the wing of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. The reusable and diminutive OTV space plane is the first vehicle since the space shuttle orbiter able to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis.

Its stats are modest: The vehicle tips the scales at 11,000 pounds (4,989 kg) and is just over 29 feet (8.8 meters) in length and stands slightly more than 9 1/2 feet (2.9 meters) in height. It sports a wingspan of a little over 14 feet (4.2 meters).

The designed maximum on-orbit duration for the X-37B is 270 days, said Angie Blair, an Air Force spokeswoman for the project, but that flight time will be driven more by success in achieving demonstration objectives.

“The X-37B is a risk reduction vehicle for space experimentation and to explore concepts of operation for a long duration, reusable space vehicle. The first flight will focus on vehicle checkout and test of subsystems such as thermal management, power control and distribution, and attitude control,” Blair said.

See also:
Space shuttle sequel slated for liftoff
Air Force to launch robotic winged space plane
Air Force prepping robot spacecraft for launch
U.S. Air Force X-37B Reusable Spacecraft to Launch Into Orbit Later This Month
Mystery Space Plane’s Mystery Mission Approaches
Air Force Space Plane to Launch After Long, Twisted Past
Air Force to Launch Robotic Space Shuttle, No One’s Really Sure Why
Boeing X-37
Boeing Phantom Works
Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office

Hmmm, I wonder what they’re up to with this? It’s too small to be of much practical use.

/hopefully we’ll find out before Obama cancels the program

Cosmic Neighborhood Watch, Keeping Us Safe From Extinction Events

NASA Launches Comet-Hunting Space Camera

NASA on Monday successfully launched a space telescope designed to create a highly detailed map of the heavens and spot comets and asteroids that could pose a threat to life on Earth.

NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, lifted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base atop a Delta II rocket at 6:09 a.m. PST.

“”WISE thundered overhead, lighting up the pre-dawn skies,” said William Irace, mission project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif.

“All systems are looking good, and we are on our way to seeing the entire infrared sky better than ever before,” said Irace.

WISE will use an infrared camera to map the cosmos. The mission calls for the unmanned spacecraft to cover the entire sky one-and-a-half times, until its frozen coolant runs out. NASA hopes it will capture everything from near-Earth asteroids to distant galaxies teeming with stars.

“The last time we mapped the whole sky at these particular infrared wavelengths was 26 years ago,” noted UCLA’s Edward Wright, who is principal mission manager.

“Infrared technology has come a long way since then. The old all-sky infrared pictures were like impressionist paintings—now we’ll have images that look like actual photographs,” said Wright.

WISE is designed to provide information about the size, composition, and texture of near-Earth objects such as comets and asteroids.

“We can help protect our Earth by learning more about the diversity of potentially hazardous asteroids and comets,” said Amy Mainzer, deputy project scientist for the mission at JPL.

WISE will also attempt to document the cycle of life in the Universe, as it will capture faraway images of star-hatching galaxies and ravenous, planet-eating black holes.

See also:
WISE Spacecraft Seeks Near Earth Objects, New Stars Using Infrared Wavelengths
NASA launches new mapping spacecraft
Utah-made telescope blasts into space
Infrared Space Telescope Launched From California
NASA launches spacecraft that will map stars, galaxies, asteroids
NASA Craft To Photograph Entire Universe
Nasa sky survey probe blasts off
NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer launched
NASA’s WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer) telescope launched
NASA – Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer
Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer
Delta II Overview
Delta II

/WISE is not only good science, but a good idea for protecting the Earth, well done NASA and JPL

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