The US Air Force has launched a prototype of a new-generation National Reconnaissance Office satellite data-system (SDS) spacecraft, called the Capricorn, on 29 January, aboard an ILS International Launch Services Atlas 2A booster from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

SDS spacecraft, which are operated in highly elliptical, 38,400 x 320km, orbits, are used to relay high-resolution digital and radar images to worldwide mobile and fixed receivers from areas not covered by geostationary-orbit military-communications satellites, such as in polar regions.

Images are transmitted via the SDS from Lacrosse and Advanced KH-11 reconnaissance satellites. The SDS craft also carry infra-red sensors to monitor missile launches and nuclear tests, complementing Defence Support Programme 647 third-generation spacecraft.

Source: Flight International