With this week's shoot-down of USA 193, the failed ultra-secret-billion-dollar spacecraft, spy satellites have been very much on people's minds. I thought we'd take a few moments to look at the symbols and patches from some of the more than 100 secret "moons" in earth orbit.
Let's start with a look at the launch patch from USA 193 itself:
Not much to look at on this one. NROL-21 stands for "National Reconnaissance Office Launch 21." The NRO is like a secret twin to NASA. It's the US' "other" space agency. The agency is about as old as NASA, but its existence was secret until 1992. USA 193 was by no means the 21st NRO launch, it's just the 21st since they started using the newer launch names in the 1990s. SLC-2W refers to the launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base that they launched the rocket from.
Other patches from classified spacecraft are, in my opinion, a lot more interesting.
Recent NRO launches use constellations to signify different launches.
Here's the payload patch from a recent naval surveillance satellite (NROL-30):
And some others that I'll leave to you to research and decode:
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Trevor Paglen is an expert on clandestine military installations. He leads expeditions to the secret bases of the American west and is the author, with AC Thompson, of Torture Taxi.
Books mentioned in this post
Trevor Paglen is the author of I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World