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From: Henry Spencer <>
Subject: Re: rogue states & U.S. spysats
Date: Thu, 23 Oct 1997 17:10:49 GMT

In article <62mn90$>,
Chris Roth <> wrote:
>What are the technical problems faced by rogue nations
>who try to figure out when U.S. photo spysats are overhead? ...
>It seems to me that there are many problems, including...

Uh, note that we have experimental proof that the problem is solvable:
Ted Molczan plus a handful of other amateurs, with no government support,
have *done* it.  Speculatation about real and imaginary difficulties is
silly; it's definitely known to be possible.

(At the time of the Gulf War, I was on the board of the Canadian Space
Society, and the CSS was running a small BBS that was then the main data
distribution point for the amateur spysat trackers.  Ted asked us whether
he should suspend data releases for the duration.  I don't remember what
we decided -- the data wouldn't be all that hard for others to duplicate,
and there was legitimate public interest in it at the time, so there were
arguments against a suspension as well as for it -- but it was a real and
serious issue.)

Molczan's observers occasionally lose birds that have apparently
maneuvered into higher orbits, but a big satellite in low orbit is hard to
lose track of permanently.

>* attempts to keep launch times secret ...

The launch times are secret only before launch -- it is quite impossible
to keep a launch secret while it's happening.  In particular, the spysats
would mostly be launched from Vandenberg, for polar orbit, and launches
from Vandenberg pass offshore of Los Angeles; unless the weather is bad,
literally millions of people can estimate the launch time within a few

>* crude optical-only tracking must be done just after
>sunset or just before sunrise--if the satellite doesn't
>pass over during those windows, then it won't be spotted

Rogue nations can, and do, have embassies and less-conspicuous unofficial
representatives elsewhere in the world.
If NT is the answer, you didn't                 |     Henry Spencer
understand the question.  -- Peter Blake        |

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