back to article US spook-sat buzzed the International Space Station

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 …

  1. Notas Badoff

    Those remote workers...

    ... you have to check up on them to see if they're really doing work during paid hours.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Those remote workers...

      Nah, just a miscommunication back at the spook shack:

      "What? ISIS, not ISS, you idiot!"

  2. a_mu

    That must have used up some fuel,

    wonder was the ISS checking on the spy sat, or the spy sat calibrating what it could do / see on the ISS,

    does the ISS have a test target for it ?

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Whose space station could it be that the Americans want to look at and need to do a rehearsal first?

      1. PassingStrange

        I suspect it's more like, "Why not?"

        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.

      2. JeffyPoooh

        AC "Whose space station could it be...?"

        As was shown by the perfectly fact-based movie 'Gravity', all the various space stations and most orbital vehicles are in the very same orbit, and separated by only a few km.



    3. Dave the Cat

      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!

  3. HPCJohn

    Space shuttle was photographed by Keyhole spy satellite

    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.

    1. gryff

      Re: Space shuttle was photographed by Keyhole spy satellite

      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.

      1. HPCJohn

        Re: Space shuttle was photographed by Keyhole spy satellite

        Into The Black indeed. Thanks Gryff

        (Damn dodgy search term when at work though...)

    2. fozzy73

      Re: Space shuttle was photographed by Keyhole spy satellite

      Into the Black ?

      can be found on google books. ( )

  4. Snorlax Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    No need for the tinfoil hats

    Probably testing the Raven system which was installed on the ISS. One of the objectives of Raven is to provide a testbed for satellite servicing:

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No need for the tinfoil hats

      Or testing itself against the already calibrated and verified Raven gear before going off to do nefarious acts close to other satellites.

      You can't fob off a true tinhatter with mere facts.

      1. Snorlax Silver badge

        Re: No need for the tinfoil hats

        ...before going off to do nefarious acts close to other satellites.

        I though that was what the X-37B was for.

        You can't fob off a true tinhatter with mere facts

        Isn't that the truth

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No need for the tinfoil hats

      "To service satellites" or so they say. ;)

      1. Snorlax Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: No need for the tinfoil hats

        @AC: "To service satellites" or so they say. ;)

        Something along the lines of SPECTRE Bird One in "You only live twice"...

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: No need for the tinfoil hats

        "To service satellites" or so they say. ;)

        How exactly does one service a racehorse?

        1. Bill B

          Re: No need for the tinfoil hats

          "How exactly does one service a racehorse?"

          Very carefully? (Or is it bulls I'm thinking of?")

  5. jpo234

    First sentence should be "the ISS “danger zone”", not "the its “danger zone”", I think.

    1. Ochib

      Any one else had a flash back to Top Gun when you read the phrase "Danger Zone", or is it just me. I'll get my coat, it's the one with the Ray-Bans.

      1. TitterYeNot

        ISS, this is Ghost Rider USA 276 requesting a flyby.

        That’s a negative USA 276, the pattern is full...

      2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        I was thinking more along the lines of archer... tactical turtleneck an' all.

  6. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Maybe ...

    it was spying on the Russian crew member, to see if he was involved in a nefarious plot to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids

    OK, time to go. The one with the tinfoil-hat repair kit please

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Maybe ...

      That theory sounds a bit strange, love

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Maybe ...

      Now we know what the .iss domain was for the hackers who attacked the DNC!

  7. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    That's no moon.

    It really isn't.

  8. Velv Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Why does it have to be that the spy satellite was manoeuvred to observe the ISS?

    Perhaps the spy satellite was manoeuvred so it could be observed from the ISS. American astronaut checking something post deployment.

    1. james 68

      Probably because the non-Americans aboard also have the capability to look out the windows, including any nefarious cosmonauts. None of whom can I imagine the NRO would want to get a look at one of their spy sats and all of whom have binoculars and DSLR cameras.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Unless the Ruski was in rack rotation.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge


      Maybe just a bit of "waving the flag" and letting a certain country know that we are watching? I just somehow don't think this was a fluke of orbits but then again, I own a tinfoil hat for those "just in case" moments.

  9. Alastair Dodd 1

    Danger Zone!

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Do you want ants?

      Because that's how you get ants.

  10. Alistair Silver badge


    -- 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!

  11. Stevie Silver badge


    Ordered by OPOTUS to check for Mexicans hitching a free ride.

  12. alan55


    Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby.

    Negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: flyby

      Next time, post a reply to an earlier post then you'll get the upvotes instead of the late-comer who posted 2 hours later but sneaked in much higher up-thread :-)

  13. malcontent

    Isn't there another Space Station which the US might be interested in observing? Rehearsal?

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