Aquacade (satellite)

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Aquacade, previously designated Rhyolite, was a class of SIGINT spy satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The National Security Agency (NSA) was also reportedly involved.[1] The program, also known by SIGAD AFP-720 and SIGAD AFP-472, respectively,[2] is still classified. During the same period, the Canyon SIGNIT satellites were in use with an apparently somewhat different set of capabilities.

The name of the program, originally "Rhyolite", was changed to "Aquacade" in 1975 following the disclosure of the codeword "Rhyolite" in the trial of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Lee.

The Rhyolite/Aquacade satellites, made by TRW, are rumored to have an umbrella-like reflecting dish 20 meters in diameter. They were succeeded by the Magnum/Orion and Mentor series of satellites.

Microwave relay interception. A Rhyolite satellite located at the right position in space can pick up stray signals from a ground microwave link.

A major purpose of the Rhyolite satellites was reportedly the interception of Soviet and Chinese microwave relay signals traffic. During the 1960s-70s, much of the long distance telephone and data traffic in both the US and Eastern Europe was carried by terrestrial microwave relay links, each consisting of a dish antenna on a microwave tower that transmitted a narrow beam of microwaves to a receiving dish in a nearby city. A good deal of the microwave beam would miss the receiving dish and, because of the curvature of the Earth, radiate out into space. By placing a satellite in a geosynchronous orbit at a position in the sky where it could intercept the beam, the US government was able to listen in on Soviet telephone calls and telex cables during the Cold War.[1]

Satellites[edit]

It is believed that at least four Rhyolite/Aquacade satellites were launched from Cape Canaveral between June 1970 and April 1978 on Atlas-Agena D launch vehicles, all of which sported distinctive elongated payload shrouds (presumably to house the satellite's large parabolic antenna). These were among the final Atlas-Agena launches as well as the last use of LC-13 at CCAS. The satellites had a mass of approximately 700 kg and operated in near-geosynchronous orbits over the Middle East. Signals were relayed to a station in the Australian outback out of range of Soviet detection. From there, they would be encrypted and sent via another satellite to Fort Meade for analysis.[3]

Name COSPAR ID
SATCAT №
Launch date
(UTC)
Launch vehicle Launch site Longitude Remarks
OPS 5346 1970-046A
04418
19 June 1970
11:37
Atlas SLV-3A Agena-D CCAFS LC-13
OPS 6063 1973-013A
06380
6 March 1973
09:30
Atlas SLV-3A Agena-D CCAFS LC-13
OPS 4258 1977-114A
10508
11 December 1977
22:45:01
Atlas SLV-3A Agena-D CCAFS LC-13
OPS 8790 1978-038A
10787
7 April 1978
00:45:01
Atlas SLV-3A Agena-D CCAFS LC-13

See also[edit]

References[edit]