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SB-WASS Navy Program

Under the unacknowledged program, the first Navy RANGER triplet (USA 59 - 1990-50) was launched on 8 June 1990 by the second flight of a Titan 4 from the Eastern Test Range. The booster was launched at a reported inclination of 51 degrees, but a significant plane change maneuver placed the spacecraft into a circular 454 kilometer orbit inclined at 61 degrees. A subsequent maneuver on 19 June raised the inclination of the orbit to 63.4 degrees, and following this maneuver three SB-WASS sub-satellites were released.

The identity of these primary payloads was initially unclear, with several interpretations under discussion, including a possible relationship to the KH-9 SIGINT sub-satellites.

However, it is clear that both of these launches also included a triplet of sub-satellites, which were placed into a 63 degree inclination orbit that would permit them to maintain a stable relative formation in orbit. Thus these sub-satellites have been interpreted as being probably related to the NOSS program. Each of these would have a mass of several thousand kilograms, consistent with the presence of an advanced infrared scanning sensor, such as was contemplated under the acknowledged program.

A second triplet (USA 72 - 1991-76) was launched on a Titan 4 on 8 November 1991. A third attempted launch ended in failure on 4 August 1993. At least one more launch was planned to complete the operational constellation. This occured on 12 May 1996.

Martin Marietta and Lockheed were the prime contractors for this program.

It was recently announced that the Navy has initiated operations of the "Classic Wizard follow-on" sites at the Regional SIGINT Operations Centers at Bad Aibling in Germany and Misawa in Japan). There is at present no indication of the JAN nomenclature for the new system's ground control segment (the previous Classice Wizard / White Cloud program utilized the FSQ-111 and FYK-16 at six sites).

Martin Marietta has built 12 space-based laser communications packages (with a reported operating range of ~ 50 km), and at least some of these have flown on LEO spacecraft with acceptable performance [in contrast to the SLC packages that MCDAC built for DSP, which had much longer ranges, and therefore far greater pointing & tracking requirements]. This is generally consistent USN SBWASS:

  1. A total of four triplets were built which would be consistent with 12 lasercom payloads.
  2. The reported operating range of ~50 km is consistent with the constellation separation of the triplets.
  3. Martin Marietta is the prime on the triplet, and on these lasercom devices.
  4. The stereo-viewing with the IR sensors would seem to generate some non-trivial bandwidth requirements, which could be handled by lasercom, which would be a more robust link than microwave.

The Shuttle Launch Dispenser (SLD) was developed for and funded by the National Reconnaissance Office. The SLD program had passed its Phase Two Safety Review at the time of the Challenger accident in 1986. Subsequently, all Department of Defense missions were directed to launch on expendable launchers. The SLD had to launch on the then-new Titan IV, which necessitated that certain modifications be made. At that time, the instrument was renamed the Titan Launch Dispenser (TLD). The first TLD was launched from the Eastern Test Range and therefore, the system has gone through all the field processing and safety reviews required to load its 12,000 lbs of bi-propellant fuel and oxidizer. The TLD program ended in 1996. All residual hardware was retained by NRL for future potential use.

The Satellite Launch Dispenser is a spacecraft deployment system designed to be economically placed in a relatively low initial orbit, from which it can then boost several payloads to orbits appropriate to their missions. Employing a sophisticated package of Attitude Control Electronics (ACE), the SLD can modify its orbit several times during each flight, making it attractive for a wide variety of missions.

Assembling the International Space Station (ISS) requires cooperation among the United States and its four international partners during 44 Space Shuttle flights. Continued delays in Russian funding of the Russian Service Module, required for the third assembly phase of the ISS, raised considerable concern throughout the ISS community. NASA funded feasibility studies to provide alternative solutions, and studies identified a relatively low-cost and low-risk approach for an Interim Control Module (ICM). The ICM offers a flight-proven design capable of delivery within the time frame needed to maintain ISS schedules.

Although the Naval Research Lab (NRL) developed the classified satellite launch dispenser for the National Reconnaissance Office, there were enough spare parts left over to build the back-up Interim Control Module (ICM) for the International Space Station [ISS], with delivery in March 2000. Although significant modifications are required, the dispenser is easily adaptable to its new mission.

The ICM will provide reboost and attitude control for the ISS from assembly phase 2A-7A, and possibly 8A. The ICM is deployed from the Space Shuttle and mated with the ISS at the Russian Node (called the FGB). The ICM provides at least one year of propellant operation with a goal of three years of operation. NASA and NRL worked jointly as a team from the Authorization to Proceed (ATP) in January 1997, with a target launch date in June 2000. After launch and mating to the ISS, NASA will provide ICM primary control through NASA existing ground assets with NRL assisting in a mission advisory capacity.


Triplet Series


By © Charles P. Vick 2007 All Rights Reserved

07-14-15 ,-07


Code name Advanced PARCAE – was the continuation in a long series of earth orbit NRO/USN/NSA, SIGINT (signals intelligence) interferometry and IR ocean imaging spacecraft used by the USN. They were launched by the Titan-4A booster with a total of at least four launches with one launch failure using the Titan-4A series. The spacecraft were actually nothing more than US Navy’s services specific sophisticated earth orbit space based earth receiving stations operating over the entire emitted electro magnetic radio spectrum frequency range in addition to their interferometry and new rotating IR ocean imaging scanning capabilities. The Advanced PARCAE were flow in packages of three spacecraft not including their NRL multiple payload bus dispenser commonly called the “Titan Launch Dispenser” (TLD) last stage. Subsequently the satellite series was redesigned to be carried on the Atlas-IIAS and Atlas-III, and Atlas-V launch vehicle series with two satellites per launch.

The total mass of the Titan-4A series packages was up to 33,075 or about 7,000-7,400 pounds each while the Atlas-IIAS and Atlas-III series were redesigned and had their spacecraft mass reduced down to 3,500-3,700 pounds. The Advanced PARCAE first Titan-4A launch was apparently June 7, 1990 and its last launch was apparently May 12, 1996. Subsequent launches on September 8, 2001 on the Atlas-IIAS and February 3, 2005 on the Atlas-III, and subsequent Atlas-5 series. They were designed to monitor and pick up from the ocean through both SIGINT and interfermetric radio emissions analysis as well as the added rotating IR ocean imaging system to locate ships and the direction and rate of traversing the ocean for strategic observations. Whether real aperture radar ocean imaging packages were added or ultimately deleted from the present operational system is unclear. It is believed that the laser cross links system was deleted from the package since that effort apparently failed. In any case the advancing technology allowed the spacecraft mass to be reduced considerable to its present mass of about 3,500-3,700 pounds. The technology for these SIGINT, interferometric PARCAE spacecraft series had evolved from the GRAB and DYNO series initially developed by the US Navy.

TLD – The Titan Launch Dispenser bus last stage was 13.8 feet in diameter using four storable hypergolic spherical propellant tanks with an AJ-23-153, 3,750 pound thrust force engine with an Isp. of 328 seconds. The TLD was approximately 7 feet long with the main body about 4.8 feet long and had two deployable RCA reaction control arms for attitude control. Each propellant tank was covered with its own solar array for the separate bus power package.

Each satellite from the Titan-4A series was stabilized with an active CGM system housed it their Lockheed F-Sat bus in addition to having an active RCS system. Each spacecraft is believed to have had one solar array attached to the (Frugal Satellite) F-Sat bus. Attached directly above the F-Sat bus was the standard PARCAE SIGINT, interferometry package with an up front rotating IR ocean imaging system added. There were two log periodic SIGINT antennas off the sides of the spacecraft. The IR imaging system allowed for two images of ships in one pass backing up the interferometric analysis for location, direction and forward speed. Some of the features of the package is believed to reflect both Aerojet and GE design heritage in addition to the Lockheed Martin overall systems heritage. The spacecraft bus was subsequently operated in a somewhat lower orbit for related mission requirements. Configuration details of the subsequent Atlas-IIAS, Atlas-III and Atlas-5 series are believed to be somewhat similar but may be considerable reduced in size and mass.

The Titan-4A launched Advanced PARCAE spacecraft series were operated at an inclination that was at approximately 63.4 degrees with a perigee between 693.48 miles and an apogee of 693.48 miles near circular orbits with a spacecraft life of five to seven years. The precise formation constellation of three spacecraft was able to receive and send the data to several global ground and ship board stations via radio signal operated by NSA/USN personnel. The data was then processed and analyzed as received for naval operations.

 (Frugal Satellite) F-Sat satellite bus - was capable of supporting payloads up to 6,000 pounds payload weight with a three axis stabilization system through magnetic torguers for momentum management and up to 1,000 pounds of hydrazine monopropellant with precision pointing capability. Power generation was up to 8 KW (BOL) by solar array with array size easily revised for design requirements. It used 90 amp hr. NiH2 batteries with voltage regulation to 28 +/- 6 Vdc possible. Among other processor and command, control, and telemetry software design details according to the Lockheed brochure. The F-Sat also carried several star tracker optical instruments for precision alignment navigation operations. F-Sat owes its heritage to the Lockheed Agena stage design and management effectiveness. (2)


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

2. Lockheed- F sat, The Frugal Alternative, bus brochure



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Page last modified: 21-07-2011 13:05:19 ZULU