Massive US Spy Satellite May ‘Hoover Up’ Cellphone Calls

NROL-44 is a huge signals intelligence, or SIGINT, satellite, says David Baker, a former NASA scientist who worked on Apollo and Shuttle missions, has written numerous books, including U.S. Spy Satellites and is editor of SpaceFlight magazine. “SIGINT satellites are the core of national government, military security satellites. They are massive things for which no private company has any purpose,” says Baker… “It weighs more than five tons. It has a huge parabolic antenna which unfolds to a diameter of more than 100 meters in space, and it will go into an equatorial plane of Earth at a distance of about 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles),” says Baker…

Spy satellites “hoover up” of hundreds of thousands of cell phone calls or scour the dark web for terrorist activity. “The move from wired communication to digital and wireless is a godsend to governments because you can’t cut into wires from a satellite, but you can literally pick up cell phone towers which are radiating this stuff into the atmosphere. It takes a massive antenna, but you’re able to sit over one spot and listen to all the communications traffic,” says Baker…

Some people worry about congestion in space, or satellites bumping into each other, and the threat of a collision causing space debris that could damage other satellites or knock out communications networks. But that may have benefits, too — little bits of spy satellite can hide in all that mess and connect wirelessly to create a “virtual satellite,” says Baker. “There are sleeper satellites which look like debris. You launch all the parts separately and disperse them into various orbits. So, you would have sensors on one bit, an amplifier on another bit, a processor on another, and they’ll be orbiting relatively immersed in space debris.”

“Space debris is very good for the space defense industry,” says Baker, “because the more there is, the more you can hide in it.”