Those remote workers...
... you have to check up on them to see if they're really doing work during paid hours.
For a little while earlier this month, astronauts on the International Space Station had a spooky companion: a spy satellite that circled just outside its “danger zone”. Dutch satellite-watcher Marco Langbroek (whose day job is at Leiden University) analysed the orbit of USA 276, a spy satellite owned by the US National …
Not a lot of fuel though. Reading the source article, it's clearer what the flight pattern was... the two craft orbited a few times very close but on slightly different planes, such that they crossed paths twice per orbit. USA-276 did adjust its speed (and thus altitude) such that it was sometimes underneath and sometimes above though.
It's not as dramatic as the chosen graph implies - it wasn't flying circles around the ISS in the way you would normally think of it.
You never know when you're going to want to do something like that. Plus you know everything about the ISS. So (a) practice it, and (b) find out how much information you can actually gather that way with that sat, and what your analysts can make of it - and what gets missed, as well. Why wouldn't you? Plus it's a great chance to eyeball the outside for damage.
I don't recall reading anything about a specific target on it, but it does have target markers near the docking ports to line up incoming resupply runs.
I did wonder if USA 276 was a SIGINT satellite and was perhaps calibrating it's systems but according to Wikipedia (so taken with a pinch of salt) it's a radar imaging satellite.
Maybe they were making a 3D model of the ISS, but I'm pretty sure there's cheaper ways for them to do that!
I recently read a fantastic history of the Space Shuttle.
Arrggh - can't remember the title.
The book shows how a KH 11 Kennen satellite was manouvered (sp?) to take images of the first Shuttle flight to check for damage before it re-entered. NASA was concerned about tile damage even then.
Sadly there was no such surveillance of the final flight of Columbia.
Perhaps this is a similar exercise? Then agian one would imagine if regular resupply missions are taking place then the astronaults will have a good gander attheir new home and check for damage.
One might imagine the ISS could be used for calibration of the spy sat cameras.
But again this can be done with a target on the ground - the Tate Modern has an artwork which shows just such a calibration target painted out on the New Mexico desert.
The history of the Shuttle with the description of KH sat squared photography was probably "Into The Black"
Similar imagery was taken of Skylab, which allowed NASA to appropriately tool and equip the Skylab 2 rescus mission. I don't recall where I read that..
There was ground based IR photography of Columbia's last re-entry which was released in a very blocky, pixelated form showing that the shuttle was damaged and no longer symmetrical. The original imagery was no doubt better, but not de-classfiable.
-- Considering some of the amazing amateur photography that has come down from ISS on some of the staffer's DSLRs, I'm wondering if the folks at the NRO just decided that it was time to show those boys and girls what *REAL* photography around the ISS would look like.
Kudo's to the ISS staffer's that have contributed to irritating the NRO into taking some amazing snaps. Now to get the NRO to show off!
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