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MENTOR [Advanced ORION]

NRO/CIA/NSA, SIGINT Spacecraft

By © Charles P. Vick 2007 All Rights Reserved

06-30/01-17, 2009

 

The United States NRO payload the "Advanced Mentor" NROL-26 spacecraft was successfully launched at 9:47 p. m. EST from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a Delta-4 Heavy on the night of January 17, 2009. This much delayed SIGINT payload launch has been over due for several years.

MENTOR- SIGINT Spacecraft Series – (NRO/CIA/NSA - Program AFP-???)

Code name MENTOR 1-3 was the new unified one serves all SIGINT satellite design successor to the Magnum/Orion, Vortex series the next in a long series of earth orbit NRO/CIA/NSA, SIGINT (signals intelligence) spacecraft used by the CIA/USAF and intelligence Community for a variety of mission. They were launched by the Titan-4A Centaur booster with a total of three MENTOR 1-3 successful launches identified. The spacecraft were actually nothing more than CIA/NSA mission specific sophisticated earth orbit space based earth receiving stations operating over the entire emitted electro magnetic radio spectrum frequency range. The MENTOR 1-3 spacecraft introduced the very large unfurling dish structures “wrap-rib” large deployable bleached white gold colored mesh covered receiving dish antenna design of about 350 feet in diameter with a total spacecraft estimated mass of an estimated 10,000 pounds for the Titan-4A Centaur and 12,700 pounds for the Titan-4B Centaur. MENTOR’s first launch was May 14, 1995 and the second subsequent launch was May 9, 1998 while its third and last launch was on September 9, 2003.

The MENTOR 1-3 series were designed to monitor and pick up from the ground and in flight electronic signals intelligence (ELINT), radio, communications intelligence (COMINT) and radar emitters emissions intelligence (RADINT) in addition to the primary missile test telemetry intelligence (TELINT) acquisitions capabilities all coming under the general SIGINT heading. They were fully dedicated mission operations that were highly successful in acquiring SIGINT through the larger mission general SIGINT “wrap-rib” white gold colored mesh covered reflector dishes. Its primary mission was TELINT intercepts of Soviet missile flight test telemetry traffic across the former Soviet Union missile test ranges out into the Pacific Ocean as well as the equivalent PRC Chinese in country flight tests.

The technology for these SIGINT spacecraft fulfilled the need for larger more sophisticated systems able to do multiple missions at the same time. The technology for these SIGINT spacecraft were slow in coming on line development wise but later proved out highly successfully once the technology was perfected. Like any new technology program it had its issues that slowed its preparation for launch as the missions were revised.

Each gravity gradient stabilized spacecraft was about 350 feet in diameter with the dish attached to gimbals for steering from the command, communication, control and intelligence, power bus. The MENTOR dish did not cover the entire visible surface of the earth but covered more than its MAGNIUM-ORION predecessor and thus the dishes were presumable set on gimbals to monitor specific points or objects of interest such as ballistic missile flight test telemetry. This would thus require several spacecraft to accomplish this monitoring task over the full range of the ICBM’s flight test.

It is presumed that each spacecraft rear bus carried one or two solar arrays with at least one down link communications dish each. The large SIGINT spacecraft was carried into earth orbit by the TITAN-4A Centaur in its longer 85.86 foot long by 16.67 foot diameter payload Shroud. Part of the spacecraft which housed the forward bus mounted sophisticated receiving feed horns with log periodic antennas collecting the earth based signals reflected off the larger “Wrap-Ribbed” supported white gold mesh covered SIGINT dish. These log periodic antenna farms were also located just above spacecraft rear bus in the hub area.

Note: For further details of the Titan-4 design payload encapsulation configuration see the accompanying illustration of the payload arrangement and the feed horn log periodic details.

It is not believed that this spacecraft series carried any early warning or sophisticated infrared sensors tracking sensors like those carried on the USAF based TRUMPET, SIGINT satellites.

This spacecraft utilized the 14.5 foot diameter by 29.3 foot long Centaur-G stage to place the spacecraft on a geosynchronous transfer orbit that then became a geosynchronous orbit once the Centaur-G stage fired a second time and later the spacecraft bus housed orbital maneuvering engine was fired to placed it in that kind of a GEO orbital position. They were operated at an inclination that was at approximately near 0 degrees with a geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) with a spacecraft life of eight to twelve years. The CIA/NSA primarily utilized it for monitoring Soviet missile test flights operations telemetry traffic emissions.

The Centaur-G rocket stage portion of the SIGINT packages carried the usual assortment of earth, horizon and solar sensors to orient the spacecraft but it did not remain attached to the spacecraft. The constellation of spacecraft was able to receive and send the data to several global ground stations via radio signal operated by NSA/CIA personnel. The data was then processed and analyzed at NSA headquarters for further analysis distribution to the CIA intelligence community. The spacecraft series cost rose from $1,750,000.00 each with a launch cost initially at $430,000,000.00 each.

 NRO Relationship to Industry & the Community

 The NRO is the Governments National Security Spacecraft systems lead design configuration control office and the Aerospace Industry are the spacecraft systems details lead working relationship operates in a very similar manner to how the Soviet designer general OKB’s design bureau worked with the Soviet era dedicated factories and their internal OKB’s design bureau to develop the systems designs details based on the designer general OKB’s design bureau specifications. The CIA and USAF provide the requirements for the SIGINT satellite while NSA uses the information they help gather from the Satellites for CIA, USAF and NSA. NSA does have considerable input to their design through NRO as does CIA and the USAF for their end product.

References:

 1. McDowell, Jonathan , U. S. Reconnaissance Satellites Programs, Part 2: Beyond Imaging, Quest, Vol. 4, No. 4.

2. Guillemette, Roger G, Top –Secret Eavesdropping Satellite Launched by Titan IV/Centaur, Countdown, July/August, 1994, page 39-35

3. Guillemette, Roger G, USAF Launches Pair of Top-Secret Eavesdropping Satellites but Titan-IV Suffers Yet Another Setback, Countdown, September/October, 1995, pp. 28-25.

In August 2002 it was reported that a 6-ton NRO eavesdropping satellite that was supposed to have been launched in April 2002 had been delayed. According to the Air Force and the NRO, "issues with the satellite" have forced its launch to be slipped until about May 2003, a full year's delay. The need for changes became apparent during the final checkout of the spacecraft, which had been under construction since the late 1990s. TRW and the Harris Corp. have been involved in past eavesdropping missions. The $430-million U.S. Air Force Titan IVB/Centaur booster that had been set to launch the spacecraft has been sitting on its Cape Canaveral launch pad for an unusually long time -- six months -- waiting for the NRO payload. The launcher is designated B-35. The B-35 vehicle--minus the satellite--was rolled to Launch Complex 40 last Feb. 11. Liftoff of the NRO spacecraft was first scheduled for Apr. 28. That date was slipped to June 3, then to Aug. 6; then, most recently, to December. But the changes needed on the payload forced a full year's delay to spring 2003. The Air Force decided to use the booster instead for the launch of a Milstar military communications spacecraft by January 2003. The NRO satellite, when it's ready to fly, will use the Titan IVB originally planned for the Milstar.

Conceptual Advanced Mentor, Trumpet SIGINT Spacecraft Design

Conceptual Advanced Mercury Mentor Trumpet SIGINT Spacecraft Design Rocket stages

Advanced JUMPSEAT

NRO/USAF/NSA, SIGINT Spacecraft

By © Charles P. Vick 2007 All Rights Reserved

06-29/07-05,-07

TRUMPET - SIGINT Spacecraft Series – (NRO/USAF/NSA - Program AFP-???)

Code name TRUMPET 1-3 was the successor to the JUMPSEAT spacecraft series the next in a long series of earth orbit NRO/USAF/NSA, SIGINT (signals intelligence) spacecraft used by the USAF and intelligence Community for a variety of mission. They were launched by the Titan-4A-Centaur and Titan-4B-Centaur boosters with a total of three TRUMPETS 1-3 successful launches identified. The spacecraft were actually nothing more than USAF/NSA mission specific sophisticated earth orbit space based earth receiving stations operating over the entire emitted electro magnetic radio spectrum frequency range. The TRUMPET 1-3 spacecraft introduced the third larger unfurling dish structures “wrap-rib” large deployable bleached white gold colored mesh covered receiving dish antenna design of about 350 feet in diameter with a total spacecraft mass of in excess of an estimated 10,000 pounds for the Titan-4A Centaur and 12,700 pounds for the Titan-4B Centaur. TRUMPET-1’s first launch was May 3 1994 and the subsequent second launch was July 19, 1995 with the last known launch of the TRUMPET-3 on November 8, 1997.

The TRUMPET 1-3 series were designed to monitor and pick up from the ground and in flight electronic signals intelligence (ELINT), radio communications intelligence (COMINT) and radar emitters emissions intelligence (RADINT) in addition to the primary missile test telemetry intelligence (TELINT) acquisitions capabilities all coming under the general SIGINT heading. They were fully dedicated mission operations that were highly successful in acquiring SIGINT through the larger mission general SIGINT “wrap-rib” white gold colored mesh covered reflector dishes. Its primary mission was TELINT intercepts of Soviet missile flight test telemetry traffic across the former Soviet Union missile test ranges out into the Pacific Ocean.

The technology for these SIGINT spacecraft fulfilled the need for larger more sophisticated systems able to do multiple missions at the same time. The technology for these SIGINT spacecraft were slow in coming on line development wise but later proved out highly successfully once the technology was perfected. Like any new technology program it had its issues that slowed its initial progress.

Each gravity gradient stabilized spacecraft was about 350 feet in diameter with the dish attached to gimbals for steering from the command, communication, control and intelligence, power bus. The TRUMPET dish did not cover the entire visible surface of the earth but covered much more than it’s MAGNUM/ORION or JUMPSEAT predecessors and thus the dishes were presumable set on gimbals to monitor specific points or objects of interest such as ballistic missile flight test telemetry. This would thus require several spacecraft to accomplish this monitoring task over the full range of the ICBM’s flight test.

It is presumed that each spacecraft rear bus carried one or two solar arrays with at least one down link communications dish. The large SIGINT spacecraft was carried into earth orbit by the TITAN-4A Centaur in its long 85.86 foot long by 16.67 foot diameter payload Shroud. Part of the spacecraft which housed the forward bus mounted sophisticated receiving feed horns with log periodic antennas collecting the earth based signals reflected off the very larger “Wrap-Ribbed” supported white gold mesh covered SIGINT dish. These log periodic antenna farms were also located just above spacecraft rear bus in the hub area.

Note: For further details of the Titan-4 design payload encapsulation configuration see the accompanying illustration of the payload arrangement and the feed horn log periodic details.

This spacecraft utilized the 14.5 foot diameter by 29.3 foot long Centaur-G stage to place the spacecraft on a highly elliptical Molniya class orbit. They were operated at an inclination that was at approximately 64.4 degrees with a perigee of about 1,323 kilometers and an apogee of about 39,034 kilometers with a spacecraft life of eight to twelve years. This kind of orbit gives the satellites long linger time of the area’s of interest in order to acquire the data desired that might otherwise be lost The USAF/NSA primarily utilized it for monitoring Soviet missile test flights operations telemetry traffic emissions.

Above the feed horn’s apparatus housing circumstantially there was a new adjunct ballistic missile early warning sensor payload RADIANT AGATE / COBRA BRSSS sensor system deployed on the TRUMPET, SIGINT satellite older variation of which were previously deployed on previous USAF, SIGINT satellite. This was used by the satellite not merely to back up early warning capabilities but to help track ballistic missile flights in progress. This practice of using sophisticated infrared sensors on the USAF payload to help track foreign ballistic missile payloads continues to this day with dramatic success. Examples of this are the Heritage/GEM system deployed on JUMPSEAT, SIGINT satellites which would seem to indicate the early heritage of such adjunct payloads but there is no confirming USAF Space and Missile System Division histories on an otherwise silent highly classified adjunct payload deployment program. These examples are all USAF/NRO programs deployments only.

The Centaur-G rocket stage portion of the SIGINT packages carried the usual assortment of earth, horizon and solar sensors to orient the spacecraft but it did not remain attached to the spacecraft. The constellation of spacecraft was able to receive and send the data to several global ground stations via radio signal operated by NSA/USAF personnel. The data was then processed and analyzed at NSA headquarters for further analysis distribution to the USAF intelligence community. The spacecraft series cost rose from $1,750,000.00 each with a launch cost for the Titan-4B Centaur initially at $430,000,000.00 each.

References:

 1. McDowell, Jonathan , U. S. Reconnaissance Satellites Programs, Part 2: Beyond Imaging, Quest, Vol. 4, No. 4.

2. Guillemette, Roger G, Top –Secret Eavesdropping Satellite Launched by Titan IV/Centaur, Countdown, July/August, 1994, page 39-35

3. Guillemette, Roger G, USAF Launches Pair of Top-Secret Eavesdropping Satellites but Titan-IV Suffers Yet Another Setback, Countdown, September/October, 1995, pp. 28-25.




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