Astronomical Engines, Big Complicated Machines, Military Surplus

The NRO Takes Pity on NASA, Gives Them Spare “Hardware”


A KH-9 spy satellite, which has nothing to do with the article.

Last year, or possibly the year before, some of the bean-counting type of spooks that work for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) were evidently sorting through the excess hardware at one of their storage facilities when they found that they had a couple of telescopes that they didn’t need anymore. They were brand new and it seemed a shame to just chuck them out, so they considered who might want to take them off of their hands. NASA and its continually shrinking budget came to mind, so they gave NASA a call.

The spare “telescopes” are designed to be placed into orbit and have 94 inch primary mirrors, the same size as the Hubble ST, but with shorter focal lengths that gave them a wide field of view:

“Stubby Hubbles,” in the words of Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, adding, “They were clearly designed to look down.”

A strange thing to be doing with an orbital telescope, wouldn’t you think? After hemming and hawing a bit, NASA said that they’d take them off of their hands, but only as a favour, you understand. After hanging up with the NRO, there was a loud “YES!”, the stash of Diet Coke was brought out, and a spontaneous conga line formed:

“This is a total game changer,” said David N. Spergel of Princeton, who is co-chairman of a committee on astronomy and astrophysics for the National Academy of Sciences, which sets priorities for NASA and other agencies. Alan Dressler, of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, Calif., who reported to the Academy committee on the scientific potential of a mission with the NRO-1 telescope, as astronomers are calling it, said he was “really excited.” He told the gathering, “I think this is a tremendous opportunity for this community.”

For now, the two telescopes and some spare parts are still in their clean room at ITT Exelis, in Rochester. Michael Moore, who, as NASA’s acting deputy director for astrophysics, took the original call last year, has been to see the telescopes several times. He called their optics “astounding.”

This could prove to be quite interesting.

The quoted sections are from a June 4, 2012 article in the New York Times by , and I recommend that you go read it for a more full story.

I spotted the story over on the Balloon Juice blog, written by a Mr. Tom Levenson, one of the more coherent and cogent writers at the site. He does seem to have a fixation on classical artwork, paintings in particular, but he doesn’t appear to be too far gone yet. You might take caution before clicking on the link as the site is positively swarming with dirtyrottenfilthystinkingfuckinghippies that have yet to be punched, and something called ‘obots’, but I haven’t seen any yet. The proprietor, John Cole, is an agoraphobic misanthrope who has the good sense to admit when he’s made a mistake, but has yet to learn the lesson, “You can step on your dick, but you’re not supposed to jump up and down on it.” Be warned.

Photo: Rakiety, aligatory i komary website

  • Your last paragraph has me less than enthusiastic about clicking any link.

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      I know right, a website about seemingly combining rockets, alligators, and mosquitoes from the name – it's the stuff of nightmares.

      • The Professor

        I didn't spend much time there, especially after I translated a portion of the title. On the plus side, I'm getting better at recognizing Polish when I see it.

    • The Professor

      That's why I wrote it. The place isn't for everyone, it isn't for me 90% of the time but sometimes you find something good there.

      /Just trying to look out for you guys while giving credit where it's due.

      • Thanks for the head's up. I just went there. It merely reminded me why I have a strong distaste for the extreme ends of the political spectrum.

        • The Professor

          Yeah, they can get pretty shrill. I try to avoid the political blogs mostly. There are a couple that I check the headlines on, but that's about it.

          • CaptianNemo2001

            "Shallow, uninformed, and lacking identity." at the top said all that needed to be said.

  • alewifecove

    The Keyhole in the pic looks it was built in shed behind some ones trailer.

    • The Professor

      Doesn't it though? I was going to make a cheesy joke about it being a combination spy satellite/travel trailer for the black ops astronaut on the go but on a budget. I figured that I was in enough trouble as it was and I didn't need to pile on.

  • CruisinTime

    Good story.