First Space Espionage GPS Satellite Launched

Posted: August 24, 2008 in 2008, Articles
Tags: ,

Space War
RIA Novosti
by Andrei Kislyakov
RIA Novosti political commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Aug 21, 2008

Replacements are expected to take place soon in the “space spy community”. Yet another American GPS (Global Positioning System) Navstar satellite will be launched into the low earth orbit in autumn.

It might seem an ordinary event, had it not been for this satellite being equipped with a platform for intelligence equipment. A purely navigational GPS has turned into an advanced intelligence system, appropriate for a variety of special tasks.

Military experts expect the world’s major powers to spend as much as $30.6 billion for intelligence satellite programs in the next decade. By that time, around one hundred military satellites of various types will be orbiting earth.

Intelligence satellite constellations, including imagery intelligence (optic and electronic, and radar intelligence), electronic surveillance, military communications, and space navigation satellites are packed with the following capabilities:

– early warning of a nuclear missile attack;

– timely detection of preparations for and start of hostilities,

– sustained communication and combat control in the interest of the state leadership, strategic nuclear forces, and other branches and services;

– navigational, hydro-meteorological support, cartographic survey support, time and frequency support for the armed forces.

The U.S. possesses the most powerful space intelligence network, having launched over 500 satellites by now. The Key Hole imagery intelligence satellites, also codenamed Big Bird, are the heart of the U.S. space intelligence system.

The first of the series, the KH-9, was deployed in 1971. Now these “birds”, weighing up to 15 tons, provide coverage of nearly all the Earth’s surface. One of these satellites was given a special assignment in 2001 to track down Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, the further operation of “Big Birds” is at risk. The Misty program, launched by Boeing and Lockheed Martin and aimed at the creation of advanced imagery intelligence satellites, has already consumed $7.6 billion with no significant results.

In late winter last year, a U.S. Navy cruiser fired a missile and shot down the malfunctioning satellite USA-193, which, military experts believe, could be the latest KH-14. In September 2007, a transitional model of Key Hole, the KH-12-4, which was a prototype of the KH-13 series, fell to earth in Peru.

In Russia, the fate of the intelligence satellite program is inseparable from the fate of the national space program. There was a great decline between the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. By 2005, only one Russian electronic reconnaissance satellite was in orbit, compared to 12 American satellites, surveying Russia’s territory.

Currently Russia has almost nothing to match the Big Bird. In November 2006 and August 2007, optical reconnaissance satellites ceased operation.

Still, there’s no need to panic.

In late July this year, a Persona optical reconnaissance satellite was placed into orbit. It is a modern intelligence space vehicle, able to transmit images via a radio channel. Russia’s Defense Ministry plans to launch two Persona satellites a year, starting with 2009.

Moreover, in late January, Vladimir Popovkin, who was in charge of Russia’s Space Force at that time, said a new domestic-made satellite will be launched next year to retransmit signals from Russian intelligence space vehicles to ground centers.

It will have a lifetime of 12 years, while the satellites currently in service operate a maximum of three years.

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