Misty (satellite)

Misty (satellite)

Misty is reportedly the name of a classified project by the United States National Reconnaissance Office to operate stealthy reconnaissance satellites. The satellites are conjectured to be photo reconnaissance satellites and the program has been the subject of atypically public debates about its worthiness in the defense budget since December 2004. The estimated project costs in 2004 dollars are US$9.5 billion (inflation adjusted US$11.9 billion in 2016).[1]


  • Launches 1
  • Design 2
  • Criticism 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The first satellite (USA-53 or 1990-019B,[2] 19,600 kg) launched for the program was deployed on March 1, 1990 by the Space Shuttle Atlantis as part of Mission STS-36. Objects associated with the satellite decayed on March 31, 1990, but the satellite was seen and tracked later that year and in the mid-1990s by amateur observers.[1] The second satellite (USA-144 or 1999-028A[3]) was launched on May 22, 1999, and by 2004 the launch of a third satellite was planned for 2009.[4] Circumstantial evidence suggested that the third satellite might be the payload of the Delta IV Heavy launch designated NROL-15,[5] which was launched in June 2012. That launch deposited a payload into geosynchronous orbit but, given the stealth/deception hypothesis, there remains the possibility of other, undetected payloads.

Launch date
Launch vehicle Launch site Launch designation Orbit Decay date Remarks
USA-53 1990-019B
28 February 1990
Space Shuttle Atlantis
USA-144 1999-028A
22 May 1999
Titan IV(404)B VAFB SLC-4E NROL-9


Misty is reported to have optical and radar stealth characteristics, making it difficult for adversaries to detect (and thus predict the times it would fly overhead).

Almost everything about the program is classified information, but one clue about satellite camouflage has been found in the patent literature. Patent #US 5345238  describes an inflatable balloon that can be made rigid on exposure to ultraviolet radiation and can serve to lower the radar and optical signature of the satellite. Once deployed, the cone-shaped balloon could be steered to deflect incoming laser and microwave radar energy by sending it off into outer space. Whether or not these stealthy ideas are actually used in the Misty satellite series is not publicly known..

The effect of the cone-shaped balloon on RF Stealth in S-band is analyzed in an academic article. It is found the RCS on the bore-sight direction can be decreased with the ballon, but not enough to hide it from modern Space Fence system.[7]


Senators Dianne Feinstein and John D. Rockefeller IV to terminate the program. The primary contractor is Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

On June 21, 2007, the Associated Press reported that Director of National Intelligence John Michael McConnell had canceled the Misty program. While a spokesman of McConnell declined to comment on the report, he confirmed that McConnell has the authority to cancel projects.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b Keefe, Patrick Radden (February 2006). "I Spy".  
  2. ^ 1990-019B
  3. ^ 1999-028A
  4. ^ Priest, Dana (2004-12-11). "New Spy Satellite Debated On Hill: Some Question Price and Need".  
  5. ^ "NRO Payload Guesses". 
  6. ^ List of satellite launchesJonathan's Space Report:
  7. ^ "Shen Shou Max Chung(2015), Effects of Inflated Cone on Satellite Radar Cross Sections in S-band via FDTD Simulations". Progress in Electromagnetic Research. 2015-06-04. Retrieved 2015-06-04. 
  8. ^ Misty" Stealth Spy Satellite Program Cancelled?""". SatNews. 2007-06-26. Retrieved 2010-12-28. 

External links

  • Allen Thomson. Stealth Satellite Sourcebook (from Federation of American Scientists)
  • GlobalSecurity.org article
  • Leonard David (January 3, 2005). "Anatomy of a spy satellite". Space.com. 
  • The Spy Satellite So Stealthy that the Senate Couldn't Kill It (Excerpt from The Wizards of Langley on MISTY)
  • Jeffrey T. Richelson (2005). "Satellite in the shadows". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 61 (3).