SIPROC 4: Spy Satellite Shields

Modern spy satellites, such as the NROL-15 payload, may include an inflatable shield designed to hide the satellite from would be trackers. Image credit: USPTO.

Spy satellites seemingly hold the ultimate high ground, keeping a watchful eye on their targets from the vacuum of space. But this high ground comes at a cost: there aren’t nice rocks or trees to hide behind in space so satellites are easy to spot and plan for. The United States, China, Russia, and even Iran are very skilled at spotting satellites and getting their most cherished secret projects under cover before the prying eyes of a satellite pass overhead. Techniques for tracking aircraft via radar and direct sightings have been adapted, enabling spy satellite tracking via radar, optical telescopes, and orbit tracking and prediction software.

In order to combat these tracking techniques, satellite designers have adapted stealth plane technologies to modern spy satellites in order to provide these satellites with partial cover in the barren emptiness of space.

Two weeks ago, an uprated Delta IV Heavy rocket launched the classified NROL-15 payload into orbit. Allegedly, the NROL-15 payload was an ultra-classified National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite in the vein of the KH-11, Misty, and Hubble Space Telescopes (Hubble being a spy satellite derivative pointed in the “wrong” direction). It is likely that the NROL-15 payload included modern stealth satellite technologies, some of which we know about because of issued patents!

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