U.S. lifts veil on spy satellite launch

John Pike (johnpike@fas.org)
Thu, 19 Dec 1996 13:51:39 -0500

U.S. lifts veil on spy satellite launch
a1400reute
u w BC-SPACE-SPY   12-18 0532
^BC-SPACE-SPY (SCHEDULED)@
 ^U.S. lifts veil on spy satellite launch@
    By Jim Wolf
    WASHINGTON (Reuter) - A supersecretive Pentagon arm 
Wednesday lifted the veil for the first time on the scheduled
launch of a U.S. spy satellite in what it called a major step
toward greater openness. But the payload and its mission remain
classified.
    The National Reconnaissance Office, whose own very existence
was a secret until 1992, said it would no longer seek to shield
the fact of a launch because doing so was costly and unnecessary
for U.S. national security.
    The maiden announced launch of a U.S. spy satellite was to
take place Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, 55 miles north
of Santa Barbara, California, the NRO said. It said the launch
vehicle was a Titan IV, the largest unmanned booster in the U.S.
space launch inventory.
    The launch period opens at 11:30 A.M. EST and extends until
1:00 P.M. EST.
    ``This event is the first time the U.S. government has
acknowledged, in advance, the launch of a reconnaissance
satellite,'' the NRO said in a statement.
    ``We've been doing this for 35 years,'' added Katherine
Schneider, an NRO spokeswoman. She said it was tough to keep
secret a satellite ``that's stitting on top of a very large
launch vehicle.''
    ``What we want to protect is the technology,'' she said,
acknowledging that the fact that the NRO and the Air Force were
launching spy satellites from Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral Air
Station, Florida, was well known to anyone interested.
    Continuing to try to keep it a secret ``was costing us money
and it was costing us a lot of frustration in a new and more
open environment,'' Schneider said. But she said the NRO would
not disclose for now the mission of the satellite being launched
Friday nor declassify details of the ``well over 300'' such
launches since 1959, when so-called Corona satellites gave the
United States its fist eyes in space. Other than Corona
satellites, the last of which was launched from Vandenberg on
May 25, 1972, all NRO launches remain classified.

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John Pike
Director, Space Policy Project
Federation of American Scientists
307 Massachusetts Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20002
V 202-675-1023,   F 202-675-1024,  http://www.fas.org/