Satellite Data System
The Satellite Data System (SDS) is a system of United States military communications satellites. At least three generations have been used: SDS-1 from 1976 to 1987; SDS-2 from 1989 to 1996; SDS-3 from 1998 to the present. It is believed that these satellites were known by the code name Quasar. The first generation were named simply 'SDS', the second generation were named 'Quasar' and the third generation each carried their own designation names.
SDS satellites have a highly elliptical orbit, going from about 300 kilometers at perigee to roughly 39,000 km at apogee in order to allow communications with polar stations that cannot contact geosynchronous satellites. The high apogee meant that the polar regions were visible for long amounts of time, and only two satellites were required in order to achieve constant communications ability. In addition, two geostationary satellites appear to be part of the system. The SDS satellites were constructed by Hughes Aircraft.
The primary purpose of the SDS satellites is to relay imagery from low-flying reconnaissance satellites, notably the Keyhole optic reconnaissance and Lacrosse/Onyx radar reconnaissance satellites to ground stations in the United States.
Each SDS-1 satellite had 12 channels available for ultra-high frequency communication. They were cylindrical in shape, roughly 25 feet (7.6 m) long. 980 watts of electrical power were available from solar panels and batteries.
The SDS-2 is significantly more massive at 5150 pounds (2335 kg), with three separate communication dishes, including one for a K band downlink. Two dishes are 15 feet (4.5 meters) in diameter, while the third is 6.6 feet (2 m) in diameter. The solar arrays generate 1238 watts of power. It is believed that the Space Shuttle has been used to launch several satellites, possibly on missions STS-28, STS-38, and STS-53. Other launches have used the Titan-4 rocket.
|Launch date||Launch vehicle||Launch site||NROL designation||Perigee||Apogee||Inclination||Remarks|
|1976-06-02||Titan III(34)B||VAFB SLC-4W||N/A|
|1976-08-06||Titan III(34)B||VAFB SLC-4W|
|1978-08-05||Titan III(34)B||VAFB SLC-4W|
|1980-12-13||Titan III(34)B||VAFB SLC-4W|
|1984-08-28||Titan III(34)B||VAFB SLC-4W|
|1985-02-08||Titan III(34)B||VAFB SLC-4W|
|1987-02-15||Titan III(34)B||VAFB SLC-4W|
|1989-06-02||Space Shuttle Columbia
|1990-11-15||Space Shuttle Atlantis
|KSC LC-39A||Geosynchronous satellite, deployed along with Prowler and initially misidentified as a Magnum SIGINT spacecraft|
|1992-12-02||Space Shuttle Discovery
|1996-07-03||Titan IV(405)A||CCAFS LC-40|
|1998-01-29||Atlas IIA||CCAFS SLC-36A||NROL-5||Capricorn, Molniya orbit|
|2000-12-06||Atlas IIAS||CCAFS SLC-36A||NROL-10||Great Bear, geosynchronous satellite at 10° West|
|2001-10-11||Atlas IIAS||CCAFS SLC-36B||NROL-12||Aquilla, geosynchronous satellite at 144° West|
|2004-08-31||Atlas IIAS||CCAFS SLC-36A||NROL-1||Nemesis, Molniya orbit, final Atlas II launch|
|2007-12-10||Atlas V 401||CCAFS SLC-41||NROL-24||Scorpius, Molniya orbit|
|2011-03-11||Delta IV-M+(4,2)||CCAFS SLC-37B||NROL-27||Gryphon, geosynchronous satellite at 10° West, replaced USA-155|
|2012-06-20||Atlas V 401||CCAFS SLC-41||NROL-38||Drake, geosynchronous satellite at 144° West, replacement for USA-162|
|2014-05-22||Atlas V 401||CCAFS SLC-41||NROL-33||Geosynchronous satellite|
|2016-07-28||Atlas V 421||CCAFS SLC-41||NROL-61||Spike, Geosynchronous orbit, might be a new generation|
- Jonathan's Space Report: NRO Satellite Names
- Jonathan's Space Report: Satellite Catalogue
- Richelson J.T., 2001: The Wizards of Langley. Inside the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology. Westview press, Boulder
- National Reconnaissance Office: "NRO Brochure circa 1997"
- Jonathan's Space Report: List of satellite launches
- "NROL-61 satellite launched Thursday spotted in space by sky-watchers". Spaceflight Now. July 30, 2016.
- Vick, Berman, Lindborg, Fellow (March 19, 1997). SDS-1 Military Communications Satellite. Federation of American Scientists. Accessed April 24, 2004.
- Vick, Berman, Lindborg, Fellow, Pike, Aftergood (March 19, 1997). SDS-2 Military Communications Satellite. Federation of American Scientists. Accessed April 24, 2004.