Spy Satellites

Lacrosse Radar Imaging Satellites

Lacrosse satellites produce high resolution imagery using synthetic aperture radar, which illuminates targets through cloud cover and/or in darkness. Their orbits are not published by official sources; however, they are readily tracked by hobbyists, who are the sole public source of their orbital elements. Lacrosses are among the brightest of all satellites, typically reaching 2nd magnitude on favourable passes.

Four Lacrosse satellites have been launched, three of which remain in orbit.

The first four Lacrosses have a characteristic orange-red hue as a result of the extensive use of gold coloured kapton thermal insulation, as shown in the photo below. Lacrosse 5 is the first that does not have this distinct colour. It is more or less white, which enables the human eye to perceive it as about one magnitude brighter than its predecessors.


Although dim in this photo (only 38% illuminated), Lacrosse 2 shows its characteristic orange colour while rising in the NW on its way through Perseus. Beta Perseus (Algol) is on the left and Kappa Perseus is on the right of its flight path above Jones Orchard, Tennessee (35.32N/89.89W) on March 4, 1999 starting at 02:12:35 UT. Taken with a 35mm, on Gold Max 800 at f2.8 during a 60 second exposure. A nearly full Moon just rising illuminates a power pole in the bottom foreground below the satellite trace. (Photo taken by Jim Nix)

Orbital element and satellite prediction resources can be found on the Tracking Programs and TLE Resources page.

Satellite Data System (SDS) Satellites

On Jan 29, 1998, an Atlas 2A rocket launched what was believed to be a 2.5 ton Hughes SDS satellite, into a Molniya orbit, to provide real-time relay of data from U.S. imaging reconnaissance satellites. Molniya orbits are highly elliptical, typically about 1000 x 39000 km. Their approximately 63 deg inclination causes their apogee to remain over the northern hemisphere, enabling data to be relayed over the north polar region to receiving stations in the U.S.A.

Cosmos 2344/Arkon-1

According to AW&ST Feb 23, 1998, this is a new advanced 20 ton imaging reconnaissance satellite the size of a school bus and resembling the Hubble Space Telescope.

Cosmos 2344, with an ID of (COSPAR 1997-028A/NORAD 24827) is presently in an orbit of 2740 x 1500 km, with an inclination of 63.4 degrees. It repeats its ground track every 24 hours. The orbit provides a wider field of view and a slower overflight time. It supposedly is designed to provide wide area surveillance at 2-5 meter resolution. The spacecraft's powerful telescope can be pointed to multiple targets as far as 1000 km off its track. It uses folded optics to achieve a 27 meter imaging focal length. It's reported to work in the visible and near infrared spectrum. It was launched from Baikonur in June 1997 on a Proton K rocket.

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