back to article New prototype US spy satellite rushed into active use

An experimental "hyperspectral" spy sat which is able to detect buried roadside bombs and concealed cave or tunnel entrances has been handed over to the US forces for operational use in the Wars on Stuff. Concept of TacSat-3 analysing a hyperspectral cube. Credit: AFRL Hyperspectral cube gobbler from outer space. The …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. N2 Silver badge

    Amazing capabilities

    Although their uber lord controllers still seem to be using 'paint' to do graphics for their website

  2. 46Bit


    I'd bet a tenner this is going to be used to search out new nuclear facilities in Iran - seems the perfect tool for the job.

  3. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    CSI... the sky.

    Beyond tactical surveys, this will prove valuable for locating construction sites for weapons, for example uranium separation and breeder reactors. Byproducts of conventional explosives manufacture should also present unique signatures, revealing re-purposed existing factories as well as clandestine cottage chemistry.

    In peacetime this technology would also prove useful in locating mineral deposits, and surveying agricultural production.

  4. tas


    I wonder how they calibrated it to be effective in front-line situations. It seems to me that this system would be pretty sensitive to terrain, other geographical issues, different types of human settlement (energy use etc) and different types of enemy weapon deploys (not just different weapons).

    The required amount of processor and data storage required for this type of top-down flexibility would seem to be staggeringly large to have on a satellite. However, assuming it has had some measure of success, it can only improve and probably quite substantially with time as the calibration continues to improve against real front-line cases and with software updates on the satellites.

    It's so impressive (or soon will be), I'm going to throw away my tinfoil hat - it's useless!

  5. Sam Liddicott


    Marketing speak aside, it can "see" things illuminated by the sun and has a wide angle lens and is sensitive to a broad spectrum of light.

    Did I miss anything else?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    JSTARS ?

    Couldn't very much the same be done with the JSTARS Radar data being processed by lots of computers ?

    If somebody shows up at a street at an unusual time, spends 30 minutes there and then leaves, this could be an IED.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge


      ... they could have finally found a useable 3g signal for their O2 phone.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For a second I thought this was about Time Cube

    which gives me an idea. Looks like my weekend will be spent formulating the Hyperspatial Time Cube

  8. Pirate Dave

    holy shit

    nowhere is safe anymore. Our Government Overlords are building the infrastructure on which future malevolent dictators can rise to previously unimaginable power. All in the name of "safety" do we destroy our safety. Nice use of taxdollars that is and future generations will thank us with their scorn.

    Oh hell, I'm not wearing my tinfoil hat. That explains it...

  9. Ball boy

    Oh, the irony!

    Remind me again: who sponsored the only tunnel that's ever mentioned when one thinks of espionage or war? Hint: it went under the Iron Curtain. Oh, that's right....

    Mind you, if the Americans want to test this technology out there's a number of fields in Ireland that I'm sure could benefit from a quick glance.

    Badger because,'s wot makes tunnels, innit?

    /must be mine; there's a Guinness in the pocket

    1. oddie

      famous tunnelers

      not to mention the north koreans, the palestinians, the viet cong... off the top of my head. im sure there were others as well ;)

      and those are pretty famous tunnels for spying\war effort... the north koreans and palestinians still being at it ;)

    2. Anonymous Coward


      So no tunnels were used by the Brtish in WW1 (look up Battle of Messines), the Japanese in WW2, or the koreans, the Viet Cong, and on and on?

  10. Gary F

    The big question is

    How successful is it in pinpointing IDEs along a specific route and if they would share that intel with British troops on request.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      ,,they share, the British will get the best intel. And I guess they will, because they share a ton of SIGINT, and that is considered much more sensitive than this.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Not if...

      The SpySat detects Oil there. They would wait for the soldiers to pass by, watch them get blown to bits then blame the resulting oil 'disaster' on the Uk before riding to the rescue and claiming the oil.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      The problem isn't data.

      Our troops know the IEDs are there, it's just that the government and senior military "leaders" refused to purchase robotic bomb disposal equipment, meaning that most of the time someone has to go and sort it out by hand.

      Not using vehicles that are designed to cope with mines is also an issue. For starters the Vector, with its driving cabin RIGHT OVER THE FRONT WHEELS, is not very good at coping, nor is the Viking with it's flat bottom, or the Jackal, which was neve rmeant for the escort duty it's being used for (and has the driver IN FRONT of the damn leading wheels, guaranteeing he'll die if they hit a mine). Monocoque v-shaped hulls with the leading wheels well forward of the cabin are much more survivable. They were using similar designs in Rhodesia (When it was still called that, which shows how well known this particular idea should be) to deal with mines and IEDs but for some reason the army refuses to make any sensible use of it now. They seem to prefer bolting more lumps of plate to the bottom of regular trucks. It's no wonder the infantry call the Vectors "coffins on wheels".

    4. Paul_Murphy

      Well most people are using SATA nowadays

      Though of course IDE's can still be found on older kit.

      What? ok - I'm going ... don't push..


    5. tfb Silver badge


      So, this whole "detecting IEDs" thing. This is a satellite, so it's a fair way up: let's say at least 200km if it's going to stay up for any length of time. What kind of resolution does it have (using the real laws of physics, not some made-up tinfoil ones, and not making obviously silly assumptions about being able to do optical interferometry)? Could it be they're just making this stuff up?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The Idea

        ..behind this is something like this (read the article again slowly and you can figure it): The sat makes a lot of pictures of a region of (say) 10x10 kilometers. Each of those pictures is made with different color filters (or even different sensors). Then a bunch of computers will process that data to detect an unusual composition of frequencies inside that 10x10 km grid. This is because the "normal" frequency composition has been established with previous imaging overflights.

        More specifically, freshly dug-up earth will reflect a different composition of light than before. This system is not intended to pinpoint a threat, but rather detect something unusual in a very large area. Conventional satellites or other "national technical means" can then be used to look at the grid in more detail. Or maybe the same system scanning the suspicious area with much higher resolution.

        Or a ton of other options, including looking at SIGINT gathered in that sector. Maybe they find a suspicious phone having been used in that area, etc.

        They could also order a photo-recce plane/drone to make detailed images.

        This thing is intended to detect the rough location of the needle in the haystack, so that the magnifying glasses can be usefully deployed.

  11. bruceld


    It's not much of a spy satellite if we know what it allegedly does and that it allegedly exists.

    Personally, it sounds all like a big fabrication to me.

  12. Doshu

    We come in peace

    All your filthy pee-smelling caves are belong to us

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Does it...

    ...collect WiFi SSID information as it passes overhead?

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Multiple Layers

    Seems like the tacsat would do a broad brush over the terrain, identifying bits of interest to be followed by a near silent drone flyby with another spectral gadget to get uber detail, then the now very detailed info downloaded to the grunt with the gun. Or maybe just JDAM it and be done.

  15. Mike Shepherd
    Thumb Down

    Of course...

    Of course, if the US spent 1% as much figuring out why so many people hate them, they probably wouldn't need it.

  16. Matt Bryant Silver badge


    Reminds me of an old story about Nero. Now, whilst he gets bad press for a lot of silly goings on, the reason he clung to power was he actually had a very capable intelligence team that kept an eye on everyone in Rome likely to try unseating him. This network of agents and informers was very effective, but gave Nero a problem in how he could use the information without giving away the fact he had spies in every camp. So he came up with the idea of pretending he had a magic goat - he would get the guilty party in front of him and then ask him if he had anything to confess, then pretend the goat was whispering the truth into his ear. Of course, his agents had already told him what was really going on, but the phantasy of a magical goat deflected attention from the work they were doing and kept them safe.

    So, do we really have a supersat that can spot everything just using ordinary sunshine, or is this a magical goat to keep informers in the Taleban and Iran safe?

  17. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Reliance on technology

    Presumably it would have to be calibrated by comparison with an earlier scan. If the resolution is sufficient to detect a tunnel entrance or an IED (commonly a 155mm shell, so let's say less than a metre long) then that's an awful lot of data to be collated even along major roads, frequently enough to be useful. Dumping two dozen empty coke cans (or a few lengths of copper pipe) in one spot might be enough to confuse or misdirect it. Burying a dead goat wouldn't help either.

    Technology has all too often little to offer beyond the Mk.I Eyeball, backed up by experience and common sense. Without error bars the technology risks becoming a dangerous distraction.

  18. Blasmeme

    Environmental uses

    We all know that military technology filters down to the private sector eventually. this type of technology is exactly what is needed to track events such as toxic waste and oils spills, such as the ones happening in the gulf at the moment. All of the toxins that were too dispersed to see with the naked eye would be readily visible to such a satellite. I can't imagine how much something like this would help in tracking events in real-time, disasters or geological. The density of ash clouds from volcanoes for instance. Amazing stuff.

  19. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Not bad for a student project

    Admittedly the students at the Air Force Academy.

    Probably the highest ROI of *any* surveillance sat project *ever*.

    And what's with "Alleged." The sat *is* in orbit and *does* carry the sensor.

    The only reasonable "alleged" bit is its actual capabilities. Which I would suggest can be fairly well deduced by someone with a physics degree and a knowledge of the power spectrum of the sun at target locations and the depth and size of the tunnels you're looking for. Hint. They'll be looking for *contrasts* with the surroundings at that depth IE air Vs rock. Bigger tunnel -> -> bigger contrast ->deeper search ability.

    Of course hell well it can tell what's *in* the tunnel is another matter.

  20. Sonny Jim

    It's ok!

    It's going to be used to locate unhappy people and fire rainbows at them, that's what the US Army does nowadays, didn't you hear?

  21. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects 1

    Air haids evacuuate at height.

    How long before the half crippled old poppy farmers import dirt from Falujah and cost the USA a fortune in contermeansures.

  22. Arctic fox

    A first time for everything?

    "where a military user can make a request and a small inexpensive satellite can be in a suitable orbit within days rather than months or years."

    If they have succeeded in delivering the goods on that basis it is indeed unique groundbreaking technology.

    ps Can't we have a satire alert icon please?

  23. Zolkó
    Thumb Down

    I have a used bridge to sell you...

    ...if you believe this marketing stuff.

    So you think that the Eurofighter is a bad thing but are ready to buy hyperbolic propaganda from warmongers. I suggest you read something about wavelengths and resolution vs. detector size next time before writing about such obvious failures.

  24. Red Bren

    Own goal

    So when the machines eventually take over, our underground bunkers will be useless. Traitors!!!

  25. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Super-dooper X-Ray Specs

    Kewl and a bit pervy

  26. M Gale


    So I guess we're up to the 7500rp research level in the construction field, and decided not to bother with Doom Star construction.

    The beer is for anyone who spots the reference.

    1. Damian 1



      1. M Gale


        Beer for Damian please.

        Also I was playing with that sky app on Android recently, and found out that there really is a star called "Antares". What has this got to do with the article? Bugger all.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    @tas - obviously, the sattelite doesn't do the whole data crunching - it collects the data, compresses it and sends to the Earth station for processing

    @bruceld - not necessarily; sometimes revealing your capability might be of tactical advantage - praticularly if you want to exert pressure on some nation.

    @Pirate dave - all security /detection systems designed by human can be fooled by human. Such systems decrease probability of anyone revolving against a government by requiring them to have a PhD in physics or engineering, but not prevent it ;)

  28. Jimmy 1

    Once in a lifetime opportunity.

    Sorry to introduce a note of venality into these proceedings but we are currently seeking investment in our newly patented technology: Spectrographic Hyperbolic Bullshit Detection. The satellite mounted transducer is capable of discriminating between 14 types of sexual deviance, 120 varieties of anti-social behaviour and at least 18 signs of pre-terrorism activity. Owing to a slight electoral embarrassment our major source of funding in the UK is no longer available to us and so we are inviting investors to contact us at MOD (Department of Psychological Warfare) London.

    We are the future.

  29. Black Betty

    Re: Calibration.

    Half art, half science. Nitrogen compound abundance is always a good place to start. High concentrations over a wide confined area, think livestock. Very high concentration in a small area against a barrier, think people (men peeing up against something or an oubliet outlet). Allong a road, think explosives.

    Minerals/compounds in soil will have an effect on overlying vegetation subtly affecting its spectrum. Including some explosives (though this is of more use finding old disintegrating munitions).

    Disturbed soil will have it's own signature (or set of signature) effects on the normal spectrum of undisturdbed soils. Weathered rocks vs recently exposed will make its mark.

    A meth lab in a town will add its own special localised overlay to the petrochemical fog.

    It won't be any one thing in most cases, it will be an overlay of multiple spectral signatures adding up to a probable conclusion.

  30. Dave_H

    Tunnels - no problem

    Have none of you ever been in a cave?

    Even in a hot country it is cooler inside a cave, and that cool air seeps out. Not only will any temperature reading satelite be able to see it, but they give out a column on negative ions to boot.

    Mind you, I've never been able to get hold of any detailed temperature data for use in cave prospecting :-(

    Caver Dave

  31. Dave_H

    Caves are easy

    Have none of you ever been in a cave?

    Have you noticed how cool and humid it is in there (well compared to outside).

    Any high resolution temperature sensing satelite could find the cool air bollowing out of the entrance. And there will be a column of negative ions above the entrance as well!

    If only I could get hold of the existing data to go virtual cave hunting!

    Caver Dave

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    er, not just wide field of view + big computer

    Most of the confused comments above could have been avoided if the article had provided a 1/2-decent summary of what hyperspectral imaging actually is

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021