Jeffrey LewisCooperative Satellite Tracking and Low Observable Satellites

I’ve just finished a paper for the ISA Conference in Montreal suggesting that we should support (and probably expand) Air Force Space Command proposals to provide satellite tracking data and analytic support to foreign and commercial entities. If we don/’t provide the data necessary to manage orbital traffic, others eventual will – much as Europe is creating an alternative to the US GPS system.

One observation: Some individuals holding clearances refer to a “classified piece” of the puzzle that might have dramatic effect on such proposals. I am pretty sure the classified piece is the existence of low observable (or “stealth”) satellites, which is secret only in the administrative sense of the term.

The MISTY program is extensively covered in Jeffrey Richelson (2001), The Wizards of Langley, Westview, 248-250. Richelson mentions that a quartet of amateur astronomers were able to track the satellite. One of those astronomers, Ted Molczan, recently suggested a candidate for MISTY-2.

The ability of amateurs (albeit highly skilled ones) to track such satellites suggests that opponents of providing more data and analytic support are attempting hold back the tides of transparency-and, in doing so, we are passing up a chance to shape the legal and operational environment for the provision of satellite tracking data in ways that might legitimately preserve US national interests.