13 June 2012
The Military Gave NASA Two Telescopes 100 Times More Powerful Than The Hubble's
by Eloise Lee
Business Insider

http://www.businessinsider.com/nasa-receives-2-us-military-telescopes-2012-6#ixzz23dXnYBgk
The spy scopes are the same size as Hubble (pictured) but much more powerful


Kept under wraps at a storage unit in Rochester, New York, are two military spy telescopes so advanced that NASA is studying the hardware.

The telescopes came from the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office), a hybrid intelligence agency staffed by members of the military, the CIA and civilian personnel from the Defense Department.

Fulfilling its vision of "Vigilance from above", the agency works on innovative overhead intelligence systems for national security. It's the military spy agency looking down on the world that not many people are aware of.

Joel Achenbach at the Washington Post was the first to report the NRO had given the two "exquisite" flight-qualified telescopes � which it didn't need anymore � to NASA just over a week ago:

The telescopes have 2.4-meter (7.9-foot) mirrors, just like the Hubble, but they have 100 times the field of view. Their structure is shorter and squatter.

They�re �space qualified,� as NASA puts it, but they�re a long way from being functioning space telescopes. They have no instruments � there are no cameras, for example. More than that, they lack a funded mission and all that entails, such as a scientific program, support staff, data analysis and office space. They will remain in storage while NASA mulls its options.

"It�s great news," said NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz. "It�s real hardware, and it�s got really impressive capabilities."

Achenbach reported the telescopes had never left the ground, which prompted a number of questions about the mysterious NRO hardware.

The Freedom-of-Information-Act (FOIA) Office at NASA headquarters just released the Q&A sheet that the space agency's own PR staff referred to when the story became news.

USA Today obtained a copy, which provided the following details:

  • The hardware includes mirrors and structures made by the defense contractor Exelis of ITT.
  • NASA says the estimated cost of obtaining such hardware is approximately $275 million. In their present condition, the book value of the telescopes is around $75 million each.
  • NASA only found out about the powerful telescopes, which were built in the late 1990s, after the NRO approached the space agency recently.
  • The NRO determined that the equipment does not meet its future intelligence missions, so it passed the hardware on to NASA.

But any information about the NRO program that produced the once-secret telescopes was denied, with NASA staffers referring to the stock answer: "Due to classification or policy guidance, we cannot discuss the program office or directorate that produced the hardware." 

Even though the technology is over 20 years old, it's the most advanced known. Because the NRO deemed it acceptable to reveal the existence of the two telescopes, the suggestion is that the agency could have moved on in another direction with newer, secret technology. Who knows what other impressive hardware has since been developed under wraps.


4 June 2012
NASA gets two military spy telescopes for astronomy
by Joel Achenbach
The Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/nasa-gets-military-spy-telescopes-for-astronomy/2012/06/04/gJQAsT6UDV_story.html

The secretive government agency that flies spy satellites has made a stunning gift to NASA: two exquisite telescopes as big and powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope. They�ve never left the ground and are in storage in Rochester, N.Y.

It�s an unusual technology transfer from the military-intelligence space program to the better-known civilian space agency. It could be a boost for NASA�s troubled science program, which is groaning under the budgetary weight of the James Webb Space Telescope, still at least six years from launch.

Or it could be a gift that becomes a burden. NASA isn�t sure it can afford to put even one of the two new telescopes into orbit.

The telescopes were built by private contractors for the National Reconnaissance Office, one of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. The telescopes have 2.4-meter (7.9-foot) mirrors, just like the Hubble, but they have 100 times the field of view. Their structure is shorter and squatter.

They�re �space qualified,� as NASA puts it, but they�re a long way from being functioning space telescopes. They have no instruments � there are no cameras, for example. More than that, they lack a funded mission and all that entails, such as a scientific program, support staff, data analysis and office space. They will remain in storage while NASA mulls its options.

�It�s great news,� said NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz. �It�s real hardware, and it�s got really impressive capabilities.�

The announcement Monday raised the obvious question of why the intelligence agency would no longer want, or need, two Hubble-class telescopes. A spokeswoman, Loretta DeSio, provided information sparingly.

�They no longer possessed intelligence-collection uses,� she said of the telescopes.

She confirmed that the hardware represents an upgrade of Hubble�s optical technology.

�The hardware is approximately the same size as the Hubble but uses newer, much lighter mirror and structure technology,� DeSio said. She added, �Some components were removed before the transfer.�

Which components? �I can�t tell you that,� she said.

The telescopes have been declassified, though they remain sufficiently sensitive that neither the NRO or NASA would provide a photograph of them. At a presentation to scientists Monday in Washington, Alan Dressler, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science, showed an image of one of the telescopes, but it was so thoroughly blacked out � redacted for national security reasons � that the audience burst into laughter.

The surprise announcement was a reminder that NASA isn�t the only space enterprise in the government. Analysts believe that the United States spends more money on military and intelligence space operations than on civilian space efforts.

The two NRO telescopes may be versions of the KH-11 Kennan satellites that the agency has been putting into orbit since 1976, according to a space analyst familiar with both civilian and military hardware. The analyst said that in recent years, the NRO has decided to switch to surveillance satellites that have a broader field of view than the older models. Instead of essentially looking down through a straw at the Earth�s surface, the new technology looks down through a garden hose, the analyst said.
 


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