USA designations, withheld TLEs

Allen Thomson (
Tue, 9 Mar 1999 08:25:30 -0600

Vladimir Agapov wrote:

>It seems TLE sets for ALL satellites designated USA-... (with few
>exceptions) made classified. My first look into the OIG database
>shows that 'No elements available' message is attached to
>almost all Navstar, UHF F/O, FLTSATCOM and also LACE, GFO, ATeX.

If this is indeed the case, it would seem to be a bit of "back to the
future."  The USA designations were created back in 1983-1984, the same time
that the US stopped publishing orbital elements for spysats.  The idea
behind  the common designations seemed to be to make it harder to
distinguish spysats from run-of-the-mill military ones.  Logically,
withholding the orbital elements of the nonspysats would fit in with this,
but AFAIK it was never actually implemented -- until, apparently, now.

Whether withholding official orbital elements actually keeps people from
tracking and identifying the satellites is another question, of course.