Orion (satellite)

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Artist's impression of the Orion MENTOR4 (USA-202) Signals Intelligence Satellite launched in January 2009
USA-202 shows up as a magnitude +8 "star" in this image. Note how the real stars are trailed in this 10 second exposure: the geostationary satellite is pinpoint.
USA-223 (NROL-32), the fifth "Mentor" satellite, atop a Delta IV rocket
USA-202 and the nearby commercial geostationary satellite Thuraya 2

Orion, also known as Mentor or Advanced Orion,[1] is a class of United States spy satellites that collect signals intelligence (SIGINT) from space. Operated by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and developed with input from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), five have been launched from Cape Canaveral on Titan IV and Delta IV rockets since 1995.

These satellites collect radio emissions (SIGINT) from geostationary orbits and act as replacements for the older constellation of Magnum satellites. Observers estimate the satellites weigh close to 5,200 kg and have very large (estimated 100 m diameter)[2] radio reflecting dishes. NRO L-32, which is seen as the fifth satellite in the series, is according to NRO director Bruce Carlson "(...) the largest satellite in the world".[3] It is believed that this refers to the diameter of the main antenna, which might be well in excess of 100 m (330 ft).[4] The mission and capabilities of these satellites are highly classified, though targets may include telemetry, VHF radio, cellular mobile phones, paging signals, and mobile data links.[5] Earlier satellites with similar missions, the Rhyolite/Aquacade series, were built by TRW; it is not known who made the Orion satellites.[6]


MENTOR 4 (USA-202) deployment and initial westward drift after launch in January 2009 was controlled by the Alice Springs Mission Ground Station. About 60 days after launch Menwith Hill Ground Station was to take over control, and initiate the collection mission. MENTOR 4's initial mission was to survey line-of-sight microwave towers and emitters in the People's Republic of China for 30 to 45 days as it was drifting from east to west. Moving further west, it was to collect data from the Thuraya network, and monitor Pakistan and Afghanistan, followed by another 200 days of monitoring of the PRC. This was to be followed by data collection covering the middle East, Northern Africa, and Latin America.[7][8]

Launch date
Launch vehicle Launch site Launch designation Longitude Remarks
USA-110 1995-022A 14 May 1995
Titan IV(401)A CCAFS SLC-40 N/A 127°E[4] MENTOR 1[1]
USA-139 1998-029A 9 May 1998
Titan IV(401)B CCAFS SLC-40 NROL-6 44°E (1998–2009)
14.5°W (2009—)[4]
USA-171 2003-041A 9 September 2003
Titan IV(401)B CCAFS SLC-40 NROL-19 95.5°E[4] MENTOR 3[1]
USA-202 2009-001A 18 January 2009
Delta IV Heavy CCAFS SLC-37B NROL-26 44°E[4] MENTOR 4[1]
USA-223 2010-063A 21 November 2010
Delta IV Heavy CCAFS SLC-37B NROL-32 100.9°E[9] MENTOR 5[1]
USA-237 2012-034A 29 June 2012
Delta IV Heavy CCAFS SLC-37B NROL-15 89.21°E[10] MENTOR 6[1]
USA-268 2016-036A 11 June 2016
Delta IV Heavy CCAFS SLC-37B NROL-37 104.18°E[10] MENTOR 7[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Justin Ray (11 June 2016). "Triple-barrel Delta 4-Heavy launches national security satellite". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  2. ^ Spy satellites of the NSA (fr)
  3. ^ Bruce Carlson (2010-09-13). "National Reconnaissance Office Update" (PDF). Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-25.
  4. ^ a b c d e William Graham (2010-11-21). "Delta IV Heavy launches with NROL-32". nasaspaceflight.com. Retrieved 2010-11-22.
  5. ^ Campbell, Duncan (April 1999). "STOA Report: Interception Capabilities 2000".
  6. ^ Jonathan's space report No. 369 (1998-08-22)
  7. ^ "Two New Collection Assets to Greatly Expand MHS Target Coverage". National Security Agency. 2009-01-05. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  8. ^ Marco Langbroek (31 October 2016). "A NEMESIS in the sky: PAN, MENTOR 4, and close encounters of the SIGINT kind". The Space Review. Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  9. ^ T. Flohrer; R. Choc & B. Bastida (February 2011). "CLASSIFICATION OF GEOSYNCHRONOUS OBJECTS ISSUE 13" (PDF). ESA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-13.
  10. ^ a b ESA’s Space Debris Office (April 2017). "CLASSIFICATION OF GEOSYNCHRONOUS OBJECTS ISSUE 19" (PDF). ESA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-01-07.

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