Space: May 10, 2002


: An Ariane-4 rocket took off from Kourou, French Guiana, at 10:31 3 May, placing a Terre Spot-5 satellite in sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of over 480 miles about 19 minutes later. The launch was the sixth this year for Arianespace.

While this satellite is expected to provide information used in map making and observing volcanoes, natural disasters and changes in agricultural zones (like desert expansion), it will also have military applications (like pinpointing of troop positions and storage depots). 

The satellite has a 2.5 meter resolution (an improvement on the 8-10 meters of its predecessors) so it can now distinguish between a car and a tank.

This launch just adds more weight to CIA Director George J. Tenet's words before a recent Senate hearing: "The unique space borne advantage that the U.S. has enjoyed over the past few decades is eroding as more countries including China and India field increasingly sophisticated reconnaissance satellites. Foreign military, intelligence and terrorist organizations are exploiting this (along with commercially available navigation and communications services) to enhance their operations planning and execution. 

Recently, China used its own spy satellites to find the location and composition of a U.S. carrier battlegroup dispatched during a potential dispute over Taiwan.

America's military satellites remain the best, able to discern far more detail and collect more images. Their numbers allow them to take pictures more frequently of a given area. Up until recently, only Moscow's satellites had a capability approaching America's.

One trick is to deny any enemy access to quality images or information. During the first months of the war in Afghanistan, the United States bought exclusive access to certain sections of the Ikonos satellite's orbit (the best commercial satellite in the skies at the time), which prevented anyone else from having a look at Afghanistan. 

While Space Imaging Inc. (the American company that runs Ikonos) was happy to sell, foreign-owned satellites may not be so eager in future conflicts. 

Meanwhile, the Pentagon wants to spend $200 million to upgrade the newest yet-to-be-launched Global Positioning System satellites. This would allow signals transmission eight times more powerful those sent by the current generation of satellites, powerful enough to burn through enemy electronic jamming. This would allow the U.S. military to jam enemy over-the-counter GPS equipment on the battlefield, but still use its own channels.

Short, lightweight, short-lived jammers from 1 to 100 watts could cost an enemy less than $1,000 and be built by people with basic technical competence, from readily available commercial components and publicly available information.

The Bush Administration wants to earmark $50 million in the 2003 budget, so that enough new satellites to be in orbit by 2006 that US military GPS receivers would be able to receive boosted signals (sent on US-military-only channels) anywhere on the Earth's surface.

Over-the-counter GPS locators used by foreign militaries, merchant ships and expensive cars would continue to receive the low-power transmissions, leaving them more vulnerable to jamming.- Adam Geibel

Additional reading can be found at:

National Reconnaissance Office:

National Imagery and Mapping Agency:

Space Imaging, Inc.:

Digital Globe: 

Background on Global Positioning System:

Advanced Extremely High Frequencey program: 




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