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

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Sentinel Down

And yet again, after leaving behind a cutting edge stealth helicopter during the bin Laden raid, the U.S. conducts another, involuntary, state-of-the-art military technology transfer to the enemy.

Iran’s capture of US drone shines light on spy mission, but may reveal little

The Iranian capture of a high-tech, stealth U.S. drone shines a light on the American spying mission there, but probably doesn’t tell Tehran much that it didn’t already know, a senior U.S. official said.

The RQ-170 Sentinel was providing surveillance over Iran and didn’t just accidentally wander away from the Afghanistan border region, as first suggested. The official said Wednesday that the Iranians will no doubt be able to tell where the aircraft flew. A bigger U.S. concern, the official said, was that the Iranians are likely to share or sell whatever they have recovered of the aircraft to the Chinese, Russians or others. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the mission.

Experts and officials acknowledge that there is no self-destruct mechanism on the Sentinels — which are used both by the military and the CIA for classified surveillance and intelligence gathering missions.

. . .

U.S. officials said that while they have enough information to confirm that Iran does have the wreckage, they said they are not sure what the Iranians will be able to glean technologically from what they found. It is unlikely that Iran would be able to recover any surveillance data from the aircraft.

See also:
US admits downed drone spied on Iran
Iran says US spy drone was flying deep inside its airspace when it was downed
Malfunction likely put U.S. drone in Iranian hands
Iran Probably Did Capture a Secret U.S. Drone
U.S. Military Sources: Iran Has Missing U.S. Drone
Drone that crashed in Iran may give away U.S. secrets
China, Russia want to inspect downed U.S. drone
Sentinel unmanned drone lost in Iran among US most valuable warfare assets
Drone belonged to CIA, officials say
Downed drone was on CIA mission
Officials: Drone downed in Iran on CIA mission
Drone Lost in Iran Was Joint CIA-Military Reconnaissance Plane
Iran’s downing of U.S. drone rattles Washington
US ‘concerned’ over drone lost near Iran border
Experts: Iran capture of stealth drone no worry
US considered missions to destroy RQ-170 Sentinel drone lost in Iran
Spy drone may provide little help to Iran
U.S. debated sending commandos into Iran to recover drone
U.S. Made Covert Plan to Retrieve Iran Drone
Iran: The Stealth War Continues
Drone Drama Proves Iran Is Ready to Rumble
Stealth drone highlights tougher U.S. strategy on Iran
U.S. drones have been spying on Iran for years

The good news is that we seem to be paying close attention to what Iran is up to, have been for years, and can penetrate Iranian airspace with near impunity. These past and, hopefully, ongoing intelligence gathering and surveillance activities should help provide a detailed blueprint for when push comes to shove and Iran has to be dealt with militarily, which is sure to eventually become a necessity.

/that said, it’s a total unforced strategic error to just let Iran have this advanced technology drone, to share with or sell to other potential enemies of the United States, would it have killed us, if we didn’t want to risk lives to recover the Sentinel, to at least launch an airstrike package to obliterate the wreckage?

Russian Poison From The Sky

This time, it’s the Russian’s turn to randomly drop a spacecraft to Earth from orbit, only this one is loaded up with ten tons of highly toxic chemicals. When you duck, don’t forget your umbrella.

Toxic Russian Mars Probe Heads Back to Earth

It’s hard to believe that only last week we were getting excited for Russia’s first interplanetary mission in 15 years to launch. By now, we should be happy in the knowledge that the ambitious — and awesome — mission is powering through space, toward the Martian moon Phobos.

The reality is that we are now discussing uncontrolled reentry scenarios.

As if that wasn’t enough bad news, we are looking at an uncontrolled toxic reentry scenario. Phobos-Grunt — correctly written “Fobos-Grunt,” meaning “Phobos-Soil” or “Phobos-Ground” — is fully-laden with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide; that’s ten tons of fuel and oxidizer. The probe itself weighs-in at only three tons.

The majority of the fuel will likely vaporize during reentry, but everyone will be hoping for a splash-down in an ocean (which covers two-thirds of Earth, fortunately), as the wreckage will still be hazardous. There’s also a small quantity of radioactive cobalt-57 in one of the science missions housed in the probe — a fact that will most likely cause a media frenzy.

It is for these reasons that the Russian media is dubbing Phobos-Grunt “Most toxic falling satellite ever.”

See also:
Russia’s Phobos-Grunt Spacecraft Goes AWOL
Russian Mars Probe Will Likely Come Crashing Back to Earth
Toxic Russian Mars Probe Likely Heading Back to Earth
Mood grim over Mars probe faultRussia Running Out Of Time, As Mars Mission Seems Destined To Fail
Report: Russians Believe Martian Moon Probe is ‘Lost’
Source: Russian Space Probe Unlikely to be Saved
Phobos-Grunt Mars probe remains silent in Earth orbit
Now Russians can’t even contact their busted Mars probe
Contact with Russian Mars probe ‘unlikely’ – expert
Failed Russian space mission shows difficulty of exploring Mars
Salvaging Science from Stricken Mars Moon Probe: A Scientist’s View
Phobos-Grunt mission
Fobos-Grunt

Man, the Russians just can’t catch a break. This is their fourth launch failure just this year and now they’re 0 for 18 at Mars missions.

/and we trust the Russians with our U.S. astronauts, it makes me nervous

Look Out Below!

As they say, what goes up, must come down. Round and round she goes, where she’ll hit, nobody knows.

Huge Defunct Satellite Falling to Earth Faster Than Expected, NASA Says

NASA space junk experts have refined the forecast for the anticipated death plunge of a giant satellite, with the U.S. space agency now predicting the 6 1/2-ton climate probe will plummet to Earth around Sept. 23, a day earlier than previously reported.

The defunct bus-size spacecraft is NASA’s Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (UARS), which launched in 1991 and was shut down in 2005 after completing its mission. The satellite was expected to fall to Earth sometime this year, with experts initially pegging a weeks-long window between late September and early October, then narrowing it to the last week of this month.

. . .

NASA expects at least 26 large pieces of the massive satellite to survive the scorching temperatures of re-entry and reach Earth’s surface. Titanium pieces and onboard tanks could be among that debris, but the UARS satellite carries no toxic propellant (NASA used up all the fuel in 2005).

The debris is expected to fall over a swath of Earth about 500 miles (804 kilometers) long, NASA officials said.

There is a 1-in-3,200 chance of satellite debris hitting a person on the ground, odds that NASA says are extremely remote. Outside experts agree.

See also:
Dead NASA Satellite Falling From Space, But When & Where?
Space Satellite UARS Adrift and Heading for Earth
Nasa warns of fresh risk from £468m satellite falling from space
NASA Not Sure When, Where Falling Satellite Will Hit Earth
NASA Satellite Falling to Earth: Will You Be Hit?
Nasa satellite UARS nearing Earth ‘could land anywhere’
NASA is Deorbiting a Satellite, but They Don’t Know Exactly Where or When It’s Coming Down
The Sky is Falling As UARS Drops In
Keep Sept. 23 open: A satellite is heading our way
Six-ton NASA satellite to collide with Earth
NASA UARS satellite expected to crash to Earth

A 1 in 3,200 chance of a piece of debris hitting someone on the ground is extremely remote? Um, no, the chances of getting hit by lightening or winning the lottery are remote. 1 in 3,200 is like hey, don’t forget to duck.

/we have much larger satellites on orbit, let’s hope we never lose positive control of any of them, say as the result of a Chinese attack

Abandon Ship!

What’s I say? This is what happens when you put all your eggs in the Russian technology basket and the basket falls apart.

Space station could be abandoned in November

Astronauts may need to temporarily withdraw from the International Space Station before the end of this year if Russia is unable to resume manned flights of its Soyuz rocket after a failed cargo launch last week, according to the NASA official in charge of the outpost.

Despite a delivery of important logistics by the final space shuttle mission in July, safety concerns with landing Soyuz capsules in the middle of winter could force the space station to fly unmanned beginning in November, according to Michael Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager.

“Logistically, we can support [operations] almost forever, but eventually if we don’t see the Soyuz spacecraft, we’ll probably going to unmanned ops before the end of the year,” Suffredini said in an interview Thursday, one day after Russia lost a Soyuz rocket with an automated Progress resupply ship bound for the space station.

See also:
Will the Space Station be Abandoned?
International Space Station might be abandoned in November
Cargo Craft Loss Prompts ISS Concerns
NASA Sets Space Station Status Update Briefing for Monday
Roscosmos smarting after Progress loss
ISS crew safe despite supply failure: Russia, US
Matt Reed: After Russian crash, turn to the F-150 of American rockets
Progress Fails To Make Progress

Okay, so the Russian rockets are turning out to be piles of junk. Why can’t we launch the Progress cargo ship or the manned Soyuz capsule on top of the highly successful, dependable workhorse, Delta IV or Atlas V rockets? Where’s that old fashioned American ingenuity?

/and what about SpaceX, they’re already planning a rendezvous mission to dock with the ISS later this year, why can’t resources be poured into that and the schedule moved up?

And Then There Were None

Welcome home Atlantis, a safe ending to the thirty year space shuttle program that saw the tragic loss of 40% of the fleet.

Ghostly Landing of Atlantis Closes America’s Space Shuttle Era Forever

Barely discernable in the pre-dawn twilight and appearing as an eerie, ghost like figure, Space Shuttle Atlantis and her four person crew swiftly glided to a triumphant landing at the Kennedy Space Center that closed out NASA’s three decade long Space Shuttle Era – in the wink of an eye it was all over.

Atlantis touched down almost invisibly on Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at 5:57 a.m. EDT and rolled to a stop moments later to conclude the history making 13 day flight to the International Space Station and back. During the STS-135 mission Atlantis orbited the Earth 200 times and journeyed 5,284,862 miles.

The all veteran crew of space flyers comprised of Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.

. . .

“Mission complete, Houston,” radioed Commander Ferguson. “After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history. It’s come to a final stop.”

See also:
‘Mission complete, Houston’
Atlantis’ triumphant swan song ends NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program
Space shuttle Atlantis in final dawn touchdown to end 30 year programme
Space shuttle era ends with touchdown of Atlantis
Crowd Welcomes Home, Thanks Final Shuttle Crew
Atlantis makes perfect final landing
Final Space Shuttle Crew Leaves Plaque on Atlantis
Shuttle photographers capture last landing of Atlantis
Space shuttle Atlantis’s final flight in pictures
A bittersweet end to the space shuttle program
After shuttle lands, Mission Control to go quiet
Lights go dim at Mission Control
Space Shuttle’s End Prompts Doubts About NASA’s Future
Grounding an exciting, perilous 30-year adventure

Yes, it’s sad that America’s manned space program is effectively grounded for the time being and that thousands of jobs will be lost. However, the space shuttle was arguably America’s most dangerous manned space vehicle, costing 14 lives over three decades.

/the shuttles are old, costly to fly and maintain and, in my opinion, it’s well past time for their retirement, they belong in museums, not in space, we need to move on to newer, safer, and more efficient space travel technology

Can We Please Have Our Wreckage Back?

Hey Pakistan, we’re really sorry that we violated your sovereign airspace without so much as a captain may I, but that helicopter wreckage we left behind is top secret and we’re afraid you’re going to give it to the Chinese. We realize that you’re throughly embarrassed and really pissed off at us, but can we please have our helicopter pieces back?

Top Secret Stealth Helicopter Program Revealed in Osama Bin Laden Raid: Experts

Before an elite team of U.S. Navy SEALs executed a daring raid that took down Osama bin Laden, the commandos were able to silently sneak up on their elusive target thanks to what aviation analysts said were top secret, never-before-seen stealth-modified helicopters.

In the course of the operation that cost the al Qaeda leader his life, one of the two Blackhawk helicopters that carried the SEALs into bin Laden’s Pakistani compound grazed one of the compound’s wall and was forced to make a hard landing. With the chopper inoperable, at the end of the mission the SEALs destroyed it with explosives.

But photos of what survived the explosion — the tail section of the craft with curious modifications — has sent military analysts buzzing about a stealth helicopter program that was only rumored to exist. From a modified tail boom to a noise reducing covering on the rear rotors and a special high-tech material similar to that used in stealth fighters, former Department of Defense official and vice president of the Lexington Institute Dan Goure said the bird is like nothing he’s ever seen before.

See also:
Mission helo was secret stealth Black Hawk
Secret Stealth Helped U.S. Accomplish bin Laden Raid
Did U.S. forces use secret stealth helicopters in bin Laden raid?
Aviation Geeks Scramble to ID bin Laden Raid’s Mystery Copter
New top-secret stealth choppers used on bin Laden raid
‘Stealth chopper’ helped hit Bin Laden
Speculation is rampant when it comes to the secret copters used in Bin Laden raid
Stealth Blackhawk Used In Bin Laden Raid?
Could the bin Laden Raid Have Revealed a Secret New Helicopter?
US: Helicopter Used in Bin Laden Raid Could Fall into Enemy Hands
MH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter
MH-60K/L Black Hawk
MH-60 Black Hawk

Yep, looking at the available photographs, that’s not an ordinary MH-60 Black Hawk and what’s left of the top secret variant is in, or on the way to, enemy hands, shades of the F-117 lost over Serbia in 1999. Now we’re reduced to begging the Pakistanis for our wreckage back.

/the SEAL operators must have known it wasn’t completely destroyed before they left the scene, would it have killed us to send a follow on airstrike to complete the destruction?