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Satellites – keeping the peace

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Waspie Dwarf: On 6th December an Atlas 5 rocket roared into the Californian skies. On board was a satellite known only as NROL-39. It's design, purpose and mission kept secret by its operators, the National Reconnaissance Office. According to analysts the satellite was probably the 3rd of 5 Topaz radar imaging satellites. Part of the NROs Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) programme. It uses radar to take images with a resolution close to that of optical imaging spy satellites but has the advantage of being able to see through cloud. The FIA programme has been problematic. Years behind schedule and greatly over-budget the optical part of this programme was abandoned altogether (gifting NASA two Hubble class telescopes in the process).

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