Misty is reportedly the name of a classified project by the United States National Reconnaissance Office to operate stealthy reconnaissance satellites. The satellites are conjectured to be photo reconnaissance satellites and the program has been the subject of atypically public debates about its worthiness in the defense budget since December 2004. The estimated project costs in 2004 dollars are US$9.5 billion (inflation adjusted US$11.9 billion in 2014).
The first satellite (USA-53 or 1990-019B, 19,600 kg) launched for the program was deployed on March 1, 1990 by the Space Shuttle Atlantis as part of Mission STS-36. Objects associated with the satellite decayed on March 31, 1990, but the satellite itself was seen and tracked later that year and in the mid-1990s by amateur observers. The second satellite (USA-144 or 1999-028A) was launched on May 22, 1999, and by 2004 the launch of a third satellite was planned for 2009. Circumstantial evidence suggested that the third satellite might be the payload of the Delta IV Heavy launch designated NROL-15, which was launched in June 2012, however that launch went instead to geosynchronous orbit.
Misty is reported to have optical and radar stealth characteristics, making it difficult for adversaries to detect (and thus predict the times it would fly overhead).
Almost everything about the program is US 5345238 describes an inflatable balloon that can be made rigid on exposure to ultraviolet radiation that can serve to lower the radar and optical signature of the satellite. Once deployed, the cone-shaped balloon could be steered to deflect incoming laser and microwave radar energy by sending it off into outer space. Whether or not these stealthy ideas are actually used in the Misty satellite series is not publicly known.
Porter Goss, a former Congressman and former CIA director, and George Tenet, former CIA director, have both vigorously supported successors to Misty, despite several attempts by Senators Dianne Feinstein and John D. Rockefeller IV to terminate the program. The primary contractor is Lockheed Martin Space Systems.
On June 21, 2007, the Associated Press reported that Director of National Intelligence John Michael McConnell had canceled the Misty program. While a spokesman of McConnell declined to comment on the report, he confirmed that McConnell has the authority to cancel projects.
- Allen Thomson. Federation of American Scientists)
- GlobalSecurity.org article
- The Spy Satellite So Stealthy that the Senate Couldn't Kill It (Excerpt from The Wizards of Langley on MISTY)