RE: NROL-65 & NROL-15

From: Ted Molczan (
Date: Thu Aug 29 2013 - 13:49:04 UTC

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    Erik Laan wrote:
    > Now it seems that NROL-65 is identified I was wondering what ever happened
    > to finding NROL-15 launched in june 2012? I remember suggestions NROL-15
    > could have had some kind of geostationary decoy (was this ever spotted?)
    > and required a special onetime upgrade to the 'normal' Delta 4 heavy, and
    > also that the actual Misty satellite itself had some kind of stealth
    > property.
    The decoy notion was a hypothesis of mine that I liked very much, but later abandoned for a simpler, more likely one.
    NROL-15 (now officially known as USA 237) was quickly found in GEO, and has been tracked there ever since. Here are Mike
    McCants' latest elements:
    1 38528U 12034A   13224.79889788  .00000000  00000-0  00000-0 0    05
    2 38528   2.8234 301.4670 0039820 354.6943   5.2641  1.00270000    02
    In the following post, I outlined a more likely explanation for the seemingly long delay in launching NROL-15, which
    along with the need to upgrade the RS-68 engine, led me to speculate about the decoy:
    I have yet to determine what cancelled payload originally bore the NROL-15 designation.
    The need to upgrade the RS-68 engine may have arisen from some combination of an increase in payload mass and its lower
    than usual initial GEO inclination, 3.4 deg vs. 6-7 deg typical of most others in the series. Mentor 4's initial
    inclination was even lower, 2.9 deg, but it may not have been as massive.
    Proving the GEO decoy hypothesis would have been fairly difficult. The best proof would have been to find the
    hypothetical stealthy LEO payload it supposedly was helping hide, but hobbyists have seldom knowingly observed such
    spacecraft (a few mostly chance sightings of Misty 1 were made in 1990 and 1996-97; Misty 2 was never found). A GEO
    decoy might exhibit unusual optical or orbital perturbations that could give it away, but USA 237 so far seems like a
    typical Mentor satellite.
    > I have understood from a source that NROL-65 also used the special upgrade
    > of the 'normal' Delta 4 heavy. Could you be looking at the decoy of NROL-65
    > instead of at the supposed KH-11?
    No. The RS-68A engines designed for and first flown on NROL-15 are being phased in as the standard engine for all Delta
    IV variants.
    Ted Molczan
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