Spy Satellite Observed

SPY SATELLITE SPOTTED: On Wednesday, Aug. 28th, a Delta IV Heavy rocket (the world’s largest, according to the United Launch Alliance) blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Its secret payload was classified by the US National Reconnaisance Office. So much for secrets. Amateur sky watchers are already tracking the NROL-65 satellite as it circles Earth. Kevin Fetter video-recorded the spysat last night as it glided silently over his back yard in Brockville, Ontario, Canada:

“In the video,” says Fetter, “the satellite flew right by kappa Ophiuchus.” That star is variable with a magnitude ranging between +4 and +5. Judging from the video, the satellite is about as bright as kappa Oph, say +4.5. This means it is faint but visible to the human eye from dark-sky sites.

No one outside classified circles knows exactly what this satellite does. Speculation is centering on the possibility that it is a KeyHole intelligence satellite of KH-11 lineage. Keyhole satellites are a bit like the Hubble Space Telescope, except pointed at Earth instead of the heavens. NROL-65 could be going up to replace a similar satellite, USA 186 (05042A / 28888), launched from Vendenberg in October 2005.