US Military Satellites

There are various categories of US military satellites: Missile early-warning, nuclear explosion detection, photo-surveillance, radar imaging, electronic-reconnaissance or signals-intelligence, secure communications, and weather.

Missile Early warning satellites include the Defense Support Program (DSP) and Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRs).  DSP is an American geostationary military craft that carries infrared detectors to warn of rocket launches, like the entire fleet of DSP satellites that are deployed.

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NSSDC

SBIRS-GEO (Space Based Infra Red Sensor - Geostationary) is the geostationary component of the SBIRS-High program, which will replace the DSP system of early warning satellites in providing early warning for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launches.

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Gunter's Space Page

Nuclear explosion detection systems include the early Vela system and modern Global Burst Detection payload on GPS satellites. The Vela (meaning "watchman" in Spanish) series of spacecraft were designed to monitor worldwide compliance with the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty.

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Gunter's Space Page

The GBD payload included as a sensor on the GPS IIF navigation satellite, supported by NNSA’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development Program and built by Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, is the latest space-based sensor addition to the United States Nuclear Detonation Detection System, which monitors compliance with the international Limited Test Ban Treaty.

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National Nuclear Security Assn

Photo surveillance systems include early film-return reconnaissance satellites and the newer "Keyhole" Electro-optical satellites. Keyhole 1 through 9 also known as Corona, Argon, Lanyard, Gambit, Hexagon etc had ground-imaging cameras and a capsule to return exposed film back to Earth.

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History of Satellite Reconnaissance

The KH-11 series of reconnaissance satellites, also known as Kennen and Crystal (since 1982), are the first American spy satellites to utilize electro-optical digital imaging, and provide a real-time optical observation capability.

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Gunter's Space Page

Electronic-reconnaissance series of satellites include Advanced Vortex and Advanced Orion. Mentor, also known as Advanced Orion, is a class of United States spy satellites that collect signals intelligence (SIGINT) from space. Operated by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and developed with input from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), six have been launched from Cape Canaveral on Titan IV and Delta IV rockets since 1995. These satellites collect radio emissions (SIGINT) from geostationary orbits and act as replacements for the older constellation of Magnum/Orion satellites.

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Mentor

This series, of which the name Mercury has been reported, but which are generally known as 'Advanced Vortex', are the latest generation of USAF ELINT/SIGINT satellites. They were focused on communications intelligence (COMINT), but had the capability added to intercept also missile telemetry.

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Mercury

Radar imaging satellites include the Lacrosse series and the Future Imagery Architecture - Radar series. Lacrosse (later renamed Onyx) are terrestrial radar imaging reconnaissance satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. Lacrosse uses synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to perform mapping with resolution probably around 1 meter.

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Gunter's Space Page

"FIA-Radar" (Future Imagery Architecture - Radar)
FIA was a program to design a new generation of optical and radar imaging US reconnaissance satellites for NRO. Despite the optical component's cancellation in 2005, the radar component, with a code name of Topaz.

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Gunter's Space Page

Communications satellites include the familiar Milstar and the not-so-familiar Advanced EHF, Ultra High Frequency Follow-on, and the Wideband Global Satcom. Milstar is a joint service satellite communications system that provides secure, jam resistant, worldwide communications to meet essential wartime requirements for high priority military users.

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Milstar

The Advanced EHF Program (AEHF) is the follow-on to the DOD's Milstar highly secure communication satellite program, which currently has two Milstar I and four Milstar II spacecraft in orbit.

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AEHF

UFO (UHF follow-on) was a US Navy satellite system launched to replace the FLTSATCOM and Leasat spacecraft currently supporting the Navy's global communications network, serving ships at sea and a variety of other US military fixed and mobile terminals. It was compatible with ground- and sea-based terminals already in service.

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UFO

The WGS (Wideband Global Satcom) satellite supplies communications such as maps and data to soldiers on the battlefield, relays video from unmanned aerial reconnaissance drones, routes voice calls and data messaging, and even offers quality-of-life considerations like television broadcasts and email delivery to the troops.

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WGS

Weather satellites are from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. The DMSP is a Department of Defense (DoD) program run by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). The DMSP designs, builds, launches, and maintains satellites monitoring the meteorological, oceanographic, and solar-terrestrial physics environments.

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DMSP satellites