SBIRS: Was John Kerry right and did the US see the BUK missile launch? And what could other satellites detect?

Key evidence to determine where the BUK missile was launch from and what route the BUK vehicle took is intelligence gathered from United States owned satellites.

So far this info has not been released by the US government. Just two persons of the Dutch Safety Board have seen satellite data which confirmed the conclusion of DSB that MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile.

This post will provide an detailed look into the capabilities of  US “spy-satellites’  like SBIRS and KeyHole. And will also explain about the capabilities of commercial satellites.

The conclusion is that it is almost certain that the US has satellite photos showing either BUK systems driving or positioned in the area. It is also very likely the US has obtained intel based on the radar guidance of the BUK missile.

Depending on the cloudbase the US might have infrared data indicating the launch point and trajectory of the missile for as long the missile had fuel to power the engine.

Special thanks to Marco Langbroek of SatTrackcam. This is a website which tracks satellites. Marco helped me a lot with info I used in this blogpost!

Marco wrote a great blogpost about this subject. His position paper for the Parliament hearing on MH17 at January 22 can be read here.

Dutch newspaper AD wrote an article about what satellites could have detected at July 17. The image below is part of that article.




Dutch TV programme EenVandaag had an interview with Marco Langbroek. See the item below.


The United States has advanced satellites which can make detailed photos and are able to detect missiles as soon as they are launched.

However the US did not release any information to the public which can point a finger to the persons or state responsible for this criminal act.

John Kerry, minister of foreign affairs of the United States, stated on Sunday July 20 2014

“We know because we observed it by imagery that at the moment of the shootdown we detected a launch from that area,” he said. “Our trajectory shows that it went to the aircraft.” (The Guardian)

The final report of DSB published at October 13 included the text shown below. The text below is part of the appendix called  About the investigation and is displayed at page 66.


Fred Westerbeke, chief prosecutor and coordinator of the criminal investigation into the plane crash told Dutch daily NRC at December 19:

“Satellite images showing how on July 17 flight MH17 over Ukraine was shot out of the sky by a rocket do not exist. There has been a misunderstanding about this. There are no satellite images in the sense of a movie where you see a rocket going into the air. There is no conclusive evidence from intelligence services with the answer to all the questions.”

So let us have a look at what type of satellite could have detected the launch and trajectory of the missile. We will also explain the characteristics of those so-called SIGINT (or spy) satellites.

There are two types of satellites operating for the United States :

  • those who make very detailled ordinary photos (optical)
  • those equiped with  infra red  and radarsignal detection sensors

There are many  types of satellite orbits. The commonly used orbits are:

  1. Geostationary. A geostationary orbit is when the satellite appears stationary when viewed from Earth.
  2. Highly Elliptical Orbit. The satellite is moving in an eclispe trajectory.
  3. Low-earth orbit (LEO). a satellite revolve around earth is an orbit with an altitude between 160 kilometers and 2,000 kilometers . Spy satellites like the Keyhole serie use LEO as they are able to see the surface of the Earth more clearly as they are not so far away. They are also able to traverse the surface of the Earth.

Optical satellites (camera)

The United States has a remarkable limited number of satellites operational which are able to make detailled photos. There are far more commercial satellites in orbit.

The US has two families of satellities which primary mission is to make photos:

  1. KH-11 and KH-12 series
  2. ORS-1 (named of satellite is USA 231)

KH-11 and KH-12 (Kennan or Keyhole serie) are known series of military satellites used for optical monitoring. The KH-12 serie is said to achieve a resolution of 2+ cm, although images of this sharpness haven’t been released. The US in 2014 had four KH-12 satellites in orbit. Currently there are just three. Thr KH-11 does not make constant photos. It can be remotely controlled to make photos when the satellite is over an area of interest.

The names of KH-11 satellites active are USA 161, USA 224, USA 245 and  USA 186. USA 161 was removed from it’s orbit around January 2015 and is not operational anymore.

The USA 231 of type ORS-1 has a resolution of 1 meter. Much worse resolution than many commercial satellites.

The exact capabilities like resolution of the KH-11 and KH-12 are unknown. The declassfied KH-9 spy satellites had a resolution of 0.6 meter  to nearly 1 meter and were launched between 1971 and 1986. Now for technology that is like in the Middle Ages. For sure KH-12 has a better resolution than the most advanced commercial satelittes which have a resolution of 0,25 cm.

The features of satellites used by the United States are constantly improving. A generation of satellites which uses the same architecture are enhanced in so called blocks. For example there are 16 satellites in the KH-11 type in four blocks.

Another type of spy satellite is the Lacrosse. The first  was orbited in 1988; Lacrosse-4 launched in 2000. The speculation is that this radar can achieve 1 meter or better resolution. Lacrosse-4 is out of service. Lacrosse 5 is the only active satellite of the Lacrosse type.US also has 3 satellites of the Future Imagery Architecture ( FIA-Radar) type active.

Other types of spy satellites  are MENTOR (ORION)  MERCURY  and TRUMPET-Follow On all in a geostationary orbit . These are all SIGINT satellites which means they ‘ listen’  to communications like cell phones.

Could an American spy satellite have photographed the BUK TELAR system

Technically a KH-11 satellite is able to make such a detailed photo that a BUK TELAR can be recognised in the photo. But was one of the KH-11 satellites near enough at July 17 2014 ?

The image below kindly provided by Marco Langbroek of  SatTrackCam  shows the location of KH-11 USa 161 at 13:20 UTC being the time MH17 was shot down. The image clearly shows MH17 was in the field of view.


The table below shows the position of all   KH-11 satellites on July 17 2014 during daylight with a view on Eastern Ukraine. This is a selection of all passages that day of passages higher than 10 degrees as seen from MH17 crash site.

As the morning till around 12:00 local time was almost blue with hardly clouds at at least 4 occasions a satellite is likely to have been able to detect a BUK. As said, KH-11 satellites do not constantly make photos. However as Eastern Ukraine was in war it is very likely the US Armed Forces were interested in what happened at the ground.

 Date/Time UTC      Satellite             Elv    Z.Azm Z.Elv

 2014-07-17 04:40:42 USA 186 *            15.4   87.7  27.1
 2014-07-17 06:16:47 USA 186 *            46.4  107.2  42.9
 2014-07-17 07:10:36 USA 245              37.2  121.2  51.0
 2014-07-17 08:46:34 USA 245              26.4  157.6  61.6
 2014-07-17 11:14:13 USA 224              60.4  226.4  56.1
 2014-07-17 11:49:19 USA 161              35.5  237.8  51.5
 2014-07-17 13:20:37 USA 161              13.4  260.3  37.3
 2014-07-17 15:33:49 USA 186 *            25.9  284.9  15.3
 2014-07-17 16:32:56 USA 245              13.8  295.3   6.1 
(2014-07-17 17:08:53 USA 186 *            65.7  301.8   1.1) 
*  passages of USA 186 are less certain to be at the exact position as indicated in the table above. Data is missing required for tracking this particular satellite. However USA 186 must have passed +/- 1 hour over the indicated position.
Elv  =  max altitude satellite in degrees as seen from MH17 crash site
Z. Azm = azimuth sun (degrees from North) 
Z. Elv = altitude sun (degrees)

Commercial satellites for imaging

Not many current photos of KH-11 or KH-12 satellites photos are available. But the  photos made from satellites operated by companies provide a good indication. Three companies which sell and/or operate satellites for commercial purposes are DigitalGlobe,  GeoEye Imagery and  ImageSat. Satellites used are the  QuickBird, WorldView-1 (0,5 m resolution for civilian use) ,WorldView-2 (0,5 m resolution for civilian use),  WorldView 3 (0,3 meters resolution ), IKONOS, GeoEye-1 (0,5 m resolution for civilian use) and EROS-B (a satellite with 0.70 meter panchromatic resolution).

Other examples of satellites are the SPOT 5 (10m, 5m, and 2.5m), SPOT 6&7 (6m-1.5m), Pleiades (2m-50cm), and TerraSAR (40m-25cm) owned and operated by Airbus Defense and Space.

This is a great example of the capabilities of the GeoEye-1 satellite.

The photo below was taken from the WorldView-3 satellite. Worldview-3 has the one of the best resolutions (30cm) available for civilian usage.

25 cm imagery from the TerraSAR satellite is the highest resolution imagery that is commercially available, and GeoNorth is the only commercial provider in the market today capable of meeting such needs.


This is another image of the WorldView-3 satellite. It shows Pont de Arts bridge in Paris.

The  image below was taken by the PLEIADES satellite having a resolution of 50 cm. Type of the fighter aircraft is very easy to determine.


This is another  photo made by the Pleinadus 1A satellite having a resolution of 0,5 meters.

This link will shows a photo taken by Quickbird satellite with a resolution of 0,61 cm

This links shows a photo taken by IKONOS satellite with a resolution of 0,8m. A BUK could be detected but more difficult.

While we do not know the postition of all satellites above Eastern Ukraine on July 17, the satellites do have the capability to detect a BUK Telar driving on a blue sky morning.

Bellingcat purchased a satellite picture taken at July 17 at 11:08 local Ukraine time by DigitalGlobe. Bellingcat could not detect the BUK vehicle on the satellite photo. This was either because there was no BUK driving around. Or because the BUK was driving in an area out of sight for the GeoEye-1 satellite.

From the DigitalGlobe catalog we know that the Worldview-1 and GeoEye-1 satellites passed over Eastern Ukraine at July 17.

Bellingcat purchased a photo from Digital Globe. The photo was made by the GeoEye-1 satellite at July 17 at 11:08 AM local Ukraine time (08:08 GMT). The ID of the photo is  105041001104D000


Could a commercial satellite have ‘spotted the BUK somewhere enroute or at the launch location?

The table below shows the passages of commercial satellites at July 17, 2014 in daylight conditions and a elevation of minimum 20 degrees.

All satellites with a resolution of 0,6 meters or better are marked in bold. This means those satellites have such a resolution sufficient to clearly detect a BUK TELAR vehicle. If a BUK was in the field of view of the satellite is not known.

All satellites marked in bold are operated by US or European organizations.  The only two satellites operated by Russia are Resurs P1 and Kanoplus-V 1

The photo of GeoEye-1 showed a part of Eastern Ukraine but not all.

 Date/Time UTC       Satellite            Elv   Z.Azm Z.Elv resolution in meters

 2014-07-17 07:19:44 IKONOS 2             20.1  124.0  52.3 0,8
 2014-07-17 07:21:27 SPOT 5               58.5  124.5  52.6 2,5
 2014-07-17 07:35:03 SPOT 6               49.9  128.8  54.4 1,5
 2014-07-17 07:35:57 QUICKBIRD 2          44.5  129.1  54.5 0,6
 2014-07-17 07:54:20 WORLDVIEW 1          36.7  135.6  56.8 0,5
 2014-07-17 08:01:16 PLEIADES 1B          46.0  138.2  57.6 0,5
 2014-07-17 08:09:37 GEOEYE 1             54.8  141.4  58.4 0,5 * purchased by  Belingcat
 2014-07-17 08:15:23 WORLDVIEW 2          48.8  143.8  59.0 0,5 
 2014-07-17 08:32:43 RESURS P1            56.5  151.2  60.6 0,7 Russia operated 
 2014-07-17 08:40:49 KANOPUS-V 1          89.4  154.9  61.2 2,5 Russia operated 
 2014-07-17 08:50:35 PLEIADES 1A          63.6  159.5  61.8 0,5
 2014-07-17 08:57:19 IKONOS 2             52.3  162.7  62.2 0,8

Till at least 09:00 GMT the weather was almost clear with no clouds 
 2014-07-17 09:01:16 SPOT 5               24.6  164.7  62.4 2,5 
 2014-07-17 09:12:24 SPOT 6               23.3  170.2  62.8 1,5 
 2014-07-17 09:38:40 PLEIADES 1B          24.9  183.7  63.0 0,5
 2014-07-17 09:46:33 GEOEYE 1             21.1  187.7  62.9 0,5 
 2014-07-17 09:54:09 WORLDVIEW 2          26.4  191.5  62.7 0,5
(2014-07-17 17:08:11 SPOT 5               22.9  301.7   1.2) 2,5

Dutch RTL did an investigation using public available satellite images. The conclusion was a field south of Snizhze was changed between July 5 and July 21 2014. Probably a small area was ploughed or burned.

Detailed photos of this area taken at July 17 or July 18 were made not available by United States. It could easily prove when the field was burned.

Space-based Infrared System (SBIRS)

SBIRS main mision to an early detection of a launch of a hostile missile by using infrared sensors. It is able to detect the launch location as well as to predict the impact point of the missile. But SBIRS is used for non military missions as well. The system can for instance also be used to help direct firefighters to concentrate their resources because it can show areas of the worst hot spots in burn zones.

Lockheed Martin’s space based infrared system (SBIRS) is an early warning defence satellite system being developed for the US Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). It is a constellation of geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) satellites, highly elliptical earth orbit (HEO) payloads, and ground processing and control systems.

The programs for this kind of satellites are:

  1. Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites. DSP is being replaced by SBIRS
  2. Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) (formerly known as SBIRS Low)
  3. SBIRS Geosynchronous Earth Orbiting (GEO) satellites (factsheet)
  4. SBIRS Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) sensors.

The SBIRS program is said to be 60% faster and twice as accurate as the existing Defense Support Program satellites, of which there are 22.

SBIR satellites are very good at detecting ground to ground missiles balistic missiles. However it is confirmed they are also able to detect smaller surface to air missiles (SAM).

SBIR satellites are able to detect the heat signature of the missile exhaust. Each type of missile has exhaust. The combination of intensity of temperature, duration of the heat and distribution of heat is a unique signature and will tell something about the type of missile

The SBIRS HEO sensors are installed in SIGINT satellites used for listening to communications (like cellphones) USA 184 and USA 200 are operating as host for SBIRS sensors. These two satellites are likely capable of detecting radar signals sent out by BUK TELAR or missile guidance vehicles.

A surface to air missile is guided by radar from the ground almost during the complete trajectory towards the target.

The SBIRS satellite uses infrared sensors to detect the heat exhaust of the missile. Water vapour obscures infrared, which means the cloud cover at July 17  might have blocked detection of the initial launch phase of the SAM. Also sunlight is reflected by clouds which can disturb the vision of SBIRS.

The SBIRS program is managed by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles AFB, El Segundo, California. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Sunnyvale, California is the SBIRS prime contractor, and Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, Azusa, California, is the payload integrator. The 460th Space Wing at Buckley AFB in Aurora, Colo , operates the SBIRS system.

The 460th detected 403 missile events in 2014, versus 193  through July 2015. However, while SBIRS operators worked about 8,000 IR events from the SBIRS mission control station at Buckley in all of 2014, they had already worked 7,000 such events through August 2015.

The SBIRS satellite system

In less than 10 sec., every point on the face of the Earth is imaged by the U.S. Air Force’s SBIRS satellites!

When fully deployed, SBIRS will consist of four dedicated satellites in geosynchronous orbit and two infrared sensors hosted aboard classified satellites in highly elliptical orbit. Each satellite has two main sensor capabilities: a scanner that sweeps across wide swaths of territory and a starer that maintains constant surveillance of a smaller area for more-timely warning of missile launches.

As far as publically known the United States has 5 SBIRS satellites operational:

  1. SBIRS GEO 1 (USA 230) (2011-019A) geostationary orbit launch date 7.05.2011
  2. SBIRS GEO 2 (USA 241) (2013-011A)geostationary orbit
  3. SBIRS HEO3 (checkout May 2015) highly elliptical orbit over the northern hemisphere. Launched 2014
  4. USA 184 (2006-027A) in HEO equipped with SBIRS sensors (not a dedicated SBIRS satellite)
  5. USA 200 (2008-010A)  equipped with SBIRS sensors (not a dedicated SBIRS satellite)

In June 2015, it was decided, that SBIRS-GEO 5 and 6 will be built


An artist’s concept depicts a notional constellation of DSP, SBIRS GEO and SBIRS HEO platforms. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The video shows the diferrent orbits of Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites.  The orbits can be compared to SBIR satellites. The source of the video  is unknown


SBIRS sensors

SBIRS satellites are equipped with two types of sensors installed in Short Schmidt telescopes :

  • a scanning sensor
  • a staring sensor

The scanning sensor performs observation and surveillance of intercontinental ballistic missile targets, while the staring sensor detects the short burn time theatre missiles of very low signature.

The GEO infrared payload consists of two sensors; a scanner and a step-starer. The scanning sensor continuously scans the earth to provide 24/7 global strategic missile warning capability. Data from the scanner also contributes to theater and intelligence missions. The step-staring sensor, with its highly-agile and highly-accurate pointing and control system, provides coverage for theater missions and intelligence areas of interest with its fast revisit rates and high sensitivity. The HEO sensor is a scanning sensor, with sensor pointing performed by slewing the full telescope on a gimbal. Both the GEO and HEO infrared sensors gather raw, unprocessed data that are down-linked to the ground for mission processing. The GEO sensors perform on-board signal processing and transmit detected events to the ground, in addition to the unprocessed raw data. (source)

This website provides a wealth of declassified information on the DSP program ( SBIRS is replacing DSP).

This document in particular provides a good insight into the working of DSP including diagrams.


The staring sensor can locate and report dim (object not emitting a lot of heath) targets not detectable by the traditional scanning sensors on DSP and SBIRS GEO satellites.

The text below was copied from this site:

SBIRS GEO-1 carries a scanning sensor similar to, but more agile than, the already-deployed SBIRS HEO sensor, and a staring sensor. The scanning sensor will generally provide global surveillance, with the staring sensor intended to interrogate areas of interest around the globe with even more enhanced sensitivity and revisit time. Support to the theater missile warning mission, missile defense mission, technical intelligence mission, and the evolving battlespace awareness mission area, were the drivers for design of the GEO staring sensor. As a result, it will provide very fast re-pointing ability, high sensitivity, and small revisit time for areas of interest, as well as for tracking dim ballistic missiles to booster burnout. The staring sensor will also provide a mode of operation that allows it to continuously stare at a site with very high refresh rate, as well as flexibility in spectral band selection. Enhanced sensitivity and revisit time from the SBIRS sensors bring opportunity for earlier detection of missile launches, higher confidence detection of new dimmer and shorter-duration events, and more accurate estimation of missile trajectory parameters.

The STSS satellites

Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) is similar to the SBIRS program. However STSS satellites are in a low earth orbit. The perceived advantage of STSS is that its satellites, by operating at a lower altitude and by using long- and short-wave infrared sensors, will be able to acquire and track missiles in midcourse and during the boost phase

The former name of STSS is SBIRS Low.

STSS’s ability to track dim objects that have extremely short flight timelines. USA-205 is a known satellite in the STSS program.

The more sensitive the censor of the satellite sensing system, the more noise it will produce. Think about forest fire, gas fires in oil fields, bomb explosion or plane crash . also a launch will be for a short time. For this reason data is recorded and then analysed. This takes time.

How does a SBIRS infra red photo look like

The United States did not release many photos taken by SBIRS satellites. The photo below  is a rare example of such a release and shows a Delta IV M rocket lauched at November 4th 2006 caputed by the USA-200 satellite.

This is not a single picture. The photo below is a result of about 100 seconds of exposure.

basically SBIRS produces two types of output which is sent to earth:

  • raw data analysed by computers on the ground
  • on-board signal processing (these are probably photos)

Both the GEO and HEO infrared sensors gather raw, unprocessed data that are down-linked to the ground for mission processing. The GEO sensors perform on-board signal processing and transmit detected events to the ground, in addition to the unprocessed raw data.

Software is used to analyse the data provided by the sensors. Data captured by the SBIRS satellite is transmitted to the mission control station at a rate of 100mbps. All data received from the sensors  is recorded and then analysed by computers. These computers uses robust clutter rejection algorithms. These must filter out the noise caused  by clouds, terrain features, aurora, stratospheric warmings, temperature inversions, and polar mesospheric clouds that may obscure missiles.

The picture below is displayed at This website has a detailled description on infrared.

So SBIRS is no a kind of digitial camera which makes each second an infrared photo and sends it to earth. Lots of computing power is used to analyse the raw infrared data and make sense of the data such operators can interpret it. Computers are especially used to calculate the impact point of a detected missile.

Work in the “battlespace awareness” mission for satellite infrared data can take hours today, but that is shrinking quickly thanks to computing advances.

However there must be a way for operators to quickly detect a launch of at least a ballastic missile has this is the main mission of SBIRS. It does not make sense to know that a ballistic missile was launched after it has exploded.

Operators must react within seconds of a launch to inform U.S. Strategic Command and alert missile defenses. (source)

“The SBIRS space segment, including the GEO satellite and HEO sensors, can provide continuous wideband data that can be viewed as movies of events on Earth. (source)

The image below was published by Aviation Week. The caption of the photo says:

The first and only image released for public use from the Sbirs system is this one exclusively provided to Aviation Week for publication in Nov. 20, 2006. It captures the heat plume emitted by a Delta IV predawn launch from Vandenberg AFB, California, Nov. 4, 2006, that was carrying a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft en route to insertion into polar orbit. The plume is readily visible against the backdrop of Earth, which in the wee morning hours sees little heat and sunlight. This image was degraded by the Air Force for unclassified use. Credit: U.S. Air Force
The degration is likely the removal of stars so the orbit of the satellite carrying the SBIRS sensors cannot be determined.


Could  SBIRS have detected the BUK missile launch and trajectory?

To determine the possibility that SBIRS has detected the launch, trajectory and explosion of the missile these circumstances are important:

  1. the cloud base at the time of the launch
  2. the cloud base at the altitude MH17 flew when the missile approached and exploded near MH17
  3. the heat exhaust of the missile
  4. the location of SBIRS capable satellites.

Cloud base

As we have learned SBIRS can detect heat and radar signals. The weather over the crash site was cloudy at the time the missile was launched. The altitude of the highest clouds is unknown. We also know the duration of the BUK missile.

Very likely SBIRS picked up the exhaust of the BUK missile when it was flying above the clouds approaching MH17. Likely the launch was captured as well. At least the radar guidance signal was picked up and thus the location of the BUK which send out that signal.

Heat exhaust
This blog has a detailled description of the heat exhaust of the BUK missile. The author is very clear. SBIRS must easily have detected the missile by its exhaust.

It is likely the United States provided a trajectory of the missile based on its radar guidance signal.

Location of satellites with optical capabilities

We know that three SBIRS satellites were able to cover the area over Eastern Ukraine.

There are various tools on the internet available which allows us to track satellites. Of most military satellites the type of orbit is unknown. N2YO provides a  nice tracking tool. This page for example shows the actual location of the Worldview 3 satellite.

According to Marco Langbroke of satellite tracking website Sattrackcam:

” SBIRS GEO 1 (2011-019A) and SBIRS GEO 2 (2013-011A) in geostationary orbit and USA 184 (2006-027A) in HEO, had coverage of the area where MH17 went down at the time this happened” 

Let me remind you on some info on the data sent by SBIRS:

Both the GEO and HEO infrared sensors gather raw, unprocessed data that are down-linked to the ground for mission processing. The GEO sensors perform on-board signal processing and transmit detected events to the ground, in addition to the unprocessed raw data. (source)

As 2 GEO SBIRS satellites had a view on Eastern Ukraine they must have transmited  detected events to the ground.

This is another image which shows the three SBIRS satellite positions at the time of the crash. Three satellies were able to pick up the infrared signal of the BUK missile.

Image supplied by Marco Langbroek of Sattrackcam


The Siberia Airlines Tupolev 154 shot down

At October 4 2001 a Tupolev 154 aircraft operated by Siberia Airlines was shot down by an Ukraine missile. The missile was a S200 surface to air missile launched by the Ukraine Army during an excersise. Two missiles were shot at a drone. One missile destroyed the drone. The other missile re-targeted and went offcourse and hit the Tupolev which flew 250 km from the missile launch point.

New York Times reported.

Pentagon intelligence experts, relying on a global network of spy satellites that track missile launchings, have said privately that the jet almost certainly was downed by an SA-5 antiaircraft missile fired during a Ukrainian military exercise on the Crimean coast.

One American military official said satellite data unmistakably showed that a missile had veered off course and flown to the limit of its range before unleashing a fusillade of shrapnel-like steel balls at the jet.


Other SBIRS detections

To find the location and route of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 MH370 SBIRS was used.

The crash of the Airbus A321 of Russian airline Metrojet was detected by SBIRS (link). Russia Today reports here:

Just before a Russian passenger airliner crashed in Egypt’s Sinai on Saturday, a US infrared satellite reportedly detected a heat flash in the same vicinity, indicating that an explosion may have happened on board.

The US intelligence community believes that a fuel tank or bomb may have been the source of the heat signature, NBC News reported. The same satellite ruled out a missile attack, as it didn’t detect a heat trail that a rocket engine would have produced, the channel’s source said.

Does Russia or China have SBIRS capabilities?

It is interesting to know if Russia has SBIRS kind of satellites which could provide data. And if they have, what was the position of the Russian satellites?

As far as publicly known Russia does not have SBIRS capabilities anymore. In 2015 Russia started to lauch such a new familiy of SBIRS satellites. China likely does not have SBIRS capabilities but this is not known for sure.

Interesting sources

Sattrackcam Very interesting website!

A lot of declassified documents on SBIRS and DSP (link)

America’s Space Sentinels: The History of the DSP and SBIRS Satellite System


SBIRS HEO 2 Checkout Picture

69 Comments on SBIRS: Was John Kerry right and did the US see the BUK missile launch? And what could other satellites detect?

  1. Marcel:

    “While we do not know the position of all satellites above Eastern Ukraine on July 17, the satellites do have the capability to detect a BUK Telar driving on a blue sky morning.”

    We do know the position of all satellites at all times and places. They are tracked automatically by websites like HeavensAbove.

    Further, the resolution of the satellites is mainly limited by how large an area they are taking a picture of. If you didn’t know a BUK TELAR was in the area but suspected it might be, taking large strip pictures with lowe resolution and scanning them would make sense, and then come back later with another satellite looking for fine detail with higher resolutuon in a smaller area where a BUK was previously seen.

    To me, based on descriptions of the military shootdowns on July 16 it seems very likely a BUK was already present south of Snizhne then and used against Ukrainian targets. The sky was clear blue and lots of images were taken that day. The morning of the 17th was also clear. Further the rebels had been on the offensive since July 15 south of Snizhne, and there was also the Snizhne bombing campaign and alleged attacks from Russia into Amvrosievka. I have a difficult time believing the American and Russian satellites were not looking at this area very closely for a few days in advance of July 17. There is/was undoubtedly a wealth of space imagery available to military intelligence showing the ground situation.

    The Russians also named Ukrainian BUK deployment locations at Styla, Avdeevka, and Gruzko-Zoryanske and showed a map image with a deployment near Styla, Avdeevka, and Zaroshchenske, within hours of the shootdown. This was done far more quickly than the accusations of fantasy would suggest is possible. I suggest that backing up this assertion is not just radar signals intelligence but also a wealth of space imagery.

    • Andrew, you say “They are tracked automatically by websites like HeavensAbove”

      No, they are not actually. Heavens-Above is a website which predicts satellite positions based on orbital elements, which they get from external sources; JSpOC (“NORAD”) for non-classifieds; and our tracking network (via Mike McCants website) for classified objects.

      It is important to realize therefore, that websites like Heavens-Above do not auto-magically live-track themselves, unlike many people seem to think. They merely predict. Whether that prediction is correct or not, depends on how timely and correct the orbit the prediction is based on is.

  2. Didn’t read through all report but few things immediately catch the eye:
    1) sbirs is equipped with integrated shortwave and midwave sensors. The shortwave can easily see through clouds and there is still enough heat in the exhaust to produce photons in this spectral range. See here and here Second link directly say “including a “see-through-cloud” capability that allows these powerful infrared sensors to detect missile launches, even through cloud cover”.
    2) sbirs doesn’t have any payload to detect radar signal from BUK. It is fully focused on infrared. However, there are other satelites in the orbit that can detect radio frequencies. The data from all the satelites comes to command center and then joined together as a more comprehensive report of the situation

  3. At one moment you say So “SBIRS is no a kind of digitial camera which makes each second an infrared photo and sends it to earth.”
    Followed by “The SBIRS space segment, including the GEO satellite and HEO sensors, can provide continuous wideband data that can be viewed as movies of events on Earth”

    Sounds self contradicting. Make up your mind;).

    In any case in see your misunderstanding if how it works here “on-board signal processing (these are probably photos)”
    Images are actually made out raw data sent to earth. For data from starer it is actually similar to digital camera raw data (basically intensity value assigned to a particular pixel in 2D matrix). However, for such high resolution sensors sending this chunk of data is challenging and will be too slow for the purpose of battlefield control. That is why there is pre-processing. Basically, it uses reasonable assumption that missile with provide highest intensity in the image. Pre-processing just records the coordinate and intensity if all pixels that have intensity above certain intensity level. So instead of sending data of all 100 million pixels the data link only sends coordinates of few pixels with corresponding intensity level. Noise reduction and other features are also included in pre-processing. That is how they can achieve high response rate. But raw data is still sent to earth, just by different data-link channel. I don’t have source but from engineering perspective I suspect that Sbirs have direct link to earth for the pre-processed data. While for raw data they have free-space optical communication channel that sends raw data to another satelite, which has a more powerful data-link for communication with earth station. The full image data comes with a delay but it is not critical as most vital data was in the pre-processed information. But they the full image or movie.

    • You are probably correct. Yesterday I found this article. It is declassified info showing lots of info
      more documents here

      • Thanks for the links.the Technology is really not that secret. Currently there are many private companies trying to sell muzzle flash detection systems based on the same principle, so that military can detect and localise camouflaged artillery, tanks and snipers. From IR Technology perspective it is harder as detection is required in millisecond regime and not in 10 seconds, like for ballistic missiles. The main secret is actually in algorithms for data processing and communication channels for reliable and fast transfer of enormous data. Most probably the starer has multi-array detector, so the total pixel count is in billions. That gives them required spatial resolution at such distances. Of course optics is also special, particularly in terms of coatings and athermalization mechanism. But again, I repeat, it is not very secret for quite a while. And if there was missile launch, USA indeed should have the whole video of the event. Not releasing it because the technology is classified is a poor excuse. To hide classified capabilities they could just do pixel binning (combine several pixels into one and effectively reduce image resolution) and sub-sampling in terms of averaging multiple frames and choosing only every other frame for assembling the movie. That way real capability can be maintained secret, while all the required information will be provided. Hence, the reason why the data is not released is not secrecy but content

        • Neither classified technology nor content can be the reason not to provide data about MH17, since all content can be guessed. And the United States would not hesitate a moment to knock down the Russians regarding MH17.

          Why have they not yet accomplished this sentence? That is because all information comes from satellites to earth in digital form and can be manipulated easily. In case the Americans would say they saw a launch from Snizhne nobody in the world – besides Tjibbe Joustra – would believe them since digital data can be altered without control. That’s why we cannot trust the DSB report.

          We are not in the position to trust the Neocons. Primary radar information or satellite information can only be trusted if there is no reason to lie. Only to say this whole discussion is worthless, let us go back to the basis, back to the wreckage.

          Asking for radar and satellite information gives Ukraine and the USA a casting vote. This way they are getting more and more influence on the decisions of court. They sell satellite data, but they also sell lies. It is a trap and Pieter Omtzigt must not be involved in this abuse.

          • Antidyatel // January 15, 2016 at 12:06 am //

            “In case the Americans would say they saw a launch from Snizhne nobody in the world ”

            You are wrong here. USA provided a lot of satellite data on the event, even including harvesters in the field that were presented as Russian artillery. And all MSMs swallowed it. They also provided a satellite image with green powerpoint marker indicating missile trajectory. And again the world accepted that USA practically proven the origin of the launch and direction at which missile went. Which MSMs didn’t show that fantastic picture? And more importantly which MSMs demanded that actual truthful data?
            I’m surprised that you don’t see the point here.

          • Prosto Tak // January 15, 2016 at 12:08 am //

            “all information comes from satellites to earth in digital form and can be manipulated easily”
            “Primary radar information or satellite information can only be trusted if there is no reason to lie”

            That only means you will never believe in any evidence if it will proof not the things you’d want to.

            But if you “know” “the US astronauts have not been on the Moon” and “Ukraine shot down MH17” don’t expect the whole world believe it and think your way.

          • Prosto Tak // January 15, 2016 at 1:08 am //

            Antidyatel, you are wrong again. The real Russian artillery was shown at many images, but they were provided not by US government but by commercial satellites. It would be very strange for combine harvesters to be placed at a field in a shooting line and turned in the direction of the shooting, not along the field, as in these images: (text in Russian, pictures at the bottom in English; the English text is here: )

            And the scheme with the green marker made in Powerpoint, in Photoshop or even in Paint or whatever was exactly the one that has schematically — but very precisely — shown the launch site south of Snizhne that was later geolocated at the same spot by many people.

            And it’s obvious that scheme was not a frame from a satellite thriller movie: it was drawn with a computer application by people who had used the satellite detection data — but who also used the Earth photos from a commercial satellite to create it:

            The US were careful not to release neither their raw sat sources nor their photo intelligence — because, as you can see, there are lots of people who would not believe it anyway, and there are curious people in Russia who would be very eager to see the US raw sat source data and to analyze how the US satellites work in more details than they have known up till now.

          • Antidyatel // January 15, 2016 at 3:27 am //

            I mentioned the first image in NATO presentation here

            Those are not self-propelled artillery but harvesters. Simple.
            There is nothing simple about USA capability in terms of technology. They also talk about it at every corner but never really show. And finally they don’t need to reveal more than they revealed already from capturing North Korean launch. So you are really holding to a straw that will not prevent you from drowning. You seem to totally ignore the whole post article you are actually commenting on.

          • Antidyatel // January 15, 2016 at 6:08 am //

            “shown the launch site south of Snizhne that was later geolocated at the same spot by many people.”
            Prosto, this is another poor job on your side. Snezhnoe was in the news from 18th July based on ” reliable” intelligence of SBU. USA exercise in using Microsoft Paint happened only on 22 July. So I guess the logic should be reversed and USA was just fitting themselves into fairytale.
            And I really cannot understand how can you continue pushing the secret Technology and suoer-duper algorithms argument. It is just silly. If USA detected the launch and observed the trajectory with SBIRS starer it will be literally a movie.

          • Prosto Tak // January 16, 2016 at 12:28 am //

            Antidyatel, this is your image from a commercial satellite in a somewhat better quality provided by NATO:

            Where on Earth can you see any combine harvesters there?

            Have you ever seen a combine harvester, at least in a picture?

            Can you imagine combine harvesters just stationed in the middle of a field – and across the field, not along it – in a war zone while no harvesting being done? You can clearly see there is no difference in the ground or vegetation pattern anywhere around the vehicles – it is clear they were not harvesting any crops there. And that’s how harvesting is done in the real life:

            Can you imagine combine harvesters leaving caterpillar tracks that let you clearly see the vehicles came to their positions from aside across the field – not having moved along the field as combine harvesters would do?

            Have you often seen a whole formation of combine harvesters having their gun-like unloader side pipes set aside when no unloading is done and there are no grain carrier trucks or trailers anywhere near them? That’s how the side pipes look like, just like a gun, but they are used for grain unloading, not as a show of masculinity:

            Maybe do you mean these are exactly the combine harvesters from an old Soviet-time funny story about an imaginary “Soviet-Chinese border incident”?

            For those who do not know it, the story is a fictitious “TASS agency dispatch” that goes like “Yesterday, a Chinese infantry division that tried to cross the Soviet border was totally annihilated by Soviet peasants’ tractors plowing fields of a nearby Soviet collective farm. The farm’s chief agronomist, Major General Ivan Ivanov warned that in case of any further Chinese incursion, not only tractors but also our peaceful large-caliber combine harvesters would be deployed on the field!”

            That’s how those “combine harvesters” might have looked like:

            And that’s how they look in a position similar to that on the picture:

            Would you still insist on a silly “combine harvester” claim?

            > “Snezhnoe was in the news from 18th July based on ” reliable” intelligence of SBU. USA exercise in using Microsoft Paint happened only on 22 July. So I guess the logic should be reversed and USA was just fitting themselves into fairytale.”

            So have you finally acknowledged the Ukrainian SBU works better that all the US intelligence? 🙂

            While it would be much more logical to see that SBU has just had some really good tips that were corroborated later by the USA and still later by several independent geolocations, while some people keep believing in Kremlin fairy tales about Zaroshchenske not supported by any evidence.

          • > Where on Earth can you see any combine harvesters there?

            Note the things (harvesters or not) are offset by their own width if you measure with respect to natural field lines. This is how harvesters arrange themselves when they work collectively. There is no reason to arrange artillery that way. So these might be harvesters after all.

          • > Where on Earth can you see any combine harvesters there?

            Also note that the gun barrels are roughly aligned with the direction of the sun, which you can ascertain by looking at the alleged support vehicles. A coincidence again? Or might be the barrels are just shadows.
            Anyways, to me either is possible.

            How is it know that this is actually Russian artillery inside the Ukraine territory and not rebels’?

          • Prosto Tak // January 16, 2016 at 3:37 am //

            Eugene, as the area where the pictures were taken was not far from the occupied Krasnodon these self-propelled artillery pieces were not Ukrainian for sure.

            As for the separatists, they are known to have captured two (2) Ukrainian 2S19 Msta-B pieces: one was lost a couple of days after the satellite pictures were taken on August 23, 2014; another was left by the retreating Ukrainian troops as broken beyond repair in October 2014, and it is not known whether the combined Russian-separatist forces were ultimately successful in repairing it.

            So, whose artillery these eight pieces in the picture might be?

            As for the shooting arrangement, it looks like a standard for 2S19, according to pictures of them shooting, both in Ukraine and at exercises in Russia.

            You can see a video of Ukrainian 2S19s shooting in a similar arrangement in July 2014:

            And there is a picture used to illustrate an article on a Russian 2S19 unit in Chechnya in 2012:

            Later, in February 2015, after the occupation of Debaltsevo, six 2S19s were seen on a road there: Where did the separatists get them?

          • Antidyatel // January 17, 2016 at 1:56 am //

            Prosto, you are right. These are not harvesters. The headers are missing, which would be visible at such image resolutions. I was wrong here, indeed.
            “As for the separatists, they are known to have captured two (2) Ukrainian 2S19 Msta-B pieces”
            On 22 August separatists declared that in the period from August 8 till August 15 they captured 14 units of self-propelled artillery from Ukrainian army.

            “Ukrainian SBU works better that all the US intelligence”
            That is a really funny joke indeed.
            If they wanted to confirm SBU assertions they could have at least provided stills from SBIRS of the same resolution quality as “harvester” picture. They would not compromise their security by this but would save a lot of time to Bellingcat sect, that has to adjust their fairytale on a daily basis.
            So coming back to the main topic, the argument that USA didn’t want to show SBIRS images because skeptics would in any case disbelieve doesn’t hold water. They did release “harvester ” pictures without any concerns about skeptics

          • Prosto Tak // January 17, 2016 at 4:14 am //


            “On 22 August separatists declared” — they might have declared anything they wanted. And they did, lots of times. They declared more Ukrainian servicemen killed by them than were present at the whole Ukrainian army at the time back in 2014.

            But even if they did not lie that time, the only self-propelled artillery system that could look like those in NATO pictures from above is 2S19. The other two that might seem similar in general, 2S1 and 2S3, would still look different as their turrets are smaller and visibly offset to the tail, you can see it in the pictures of toy models when seen from above: 2S1 2S3

            So, the separatists had no other source for the eight 2S19s in the picture but Russia.

            And back to SBIRS, you might have noticed that not a single picture from the US intelligence satellites were released in the context of this conflict — all of them are commercial Digital Globe pics. The US might have detected what they wanted by their “spy sats” but then found the evidence at commercial sources and presented it.

            Even the well-known “green marker” scheme of the ‘Buk’ missile launch has the Earth surface sourced to Digital Globe, so it is a secondary scheme specially produced to show what the US knew without giving a hint at HOW did they know it.

          • Prosto Tak:

            “So, the separatists had no other source for the eight 2S19s in the picture but Russia.”


            Can you positively show that Ukraine had not lost any MSTA-S by August 22, 2014?

            This is the same problem as the provenance of a BUK launcher in separatist hands. Ukraine doesn’t seem interested in demonstrating its control of all of its units held pre-war by simply showing pictures of them from July/August of 2014.

            “The US might have detected what they wanted by their “spy sats” but then found the evidence at commercial sources and presented it.”

            It is much more likely that the Digital Globe satellites are dual-use military-civilian craft, and that all pictures are provided at full resolution directly and automatically to the DNI/NSA/DIA/CIA without charge. In this sense, they are likely analogous to the use of RESURS-P1 and similar craft by Russia.

          • American authorities like NSA have a contract with DigitalGlobe for providing images. So it is likely indeed DigitalGlobe satellites (they operate quite a few) are dual military/civilian-commercial

          • Antidyatel // January 19, 2016 at 1:24 am //

            Actually Prosto,

            In that NATO presentation there are two photos from 23 August identified as from Krasnodon area. Both from Digital Globe. But the the compass stile is different but more importantly showing in opposite directions. Why is it? Also the second photo was actually geolocated by others later to Krasnodon, while the photo of self-propelled “harvesters” is still in limbo. It could be from another area, for what we know, or be from Russian territory, like the other 2 images in the same report.

          • Prosto Tak // January 19, 2016 at 2:16 am //


            > Can you positively show that Ukraine had not lost any MSTA-S by August 22, 2014?

            — Well, I can ask you a similar question: can you positively show that the separatist captured any Ukrainian Msta-S before August 22, 2014?

            Actually, the separatist first boasted about capturing one broken Ukrainian 2S19 on August 26, 2014; you can see one of the reports (in Russian) here:

            The second one was captured, according to what I could find, on September 4, 2014; one of the reports, in Russian:

            Both were left around the town of Starobesheve by the retreating Ukrainian troops as damaged beyond repair; at the end of January 2015, the separatists still could not repair any of them and were thinking about cannibalizing them for spare parts to make one operable; video, in Russian:

            At the beginning of March 2015, both were still in the same state:

            However, in February 2015 the combined Russian-separatist forces already had at least six 2S19s without any signs of battle damage, some of them still having the Russian railway markings for oversize cargo:

            > It is much more likely that the Digital Globe satellites are dual-use military-civilian craft, and that all pictures are provided at full resolution directly and automatically to the DNI/NSA/DIA/CIA without charge.

            — Yes, it is. However, both NATO and the US were careful enough to use only publicly available images taken by that satellite to present their evidence, not some exclusive special resolution pictures that would give the adversary any hints of their capabilities.

          • Prosto Tak // January 19, 2016 at 2:51 am //


            > But the the compass stile is different but more importantly showing in opposite directions. Why is it?

            — So what of that? The compass hands were added in a photo editor by different persons who chose their own styles for it. As for the direction, the first picture have been turned upside down to look more natural for a human eye, so North turned out to be to the bottom. I can see nothing unusual in this.

            > It could be from another area, for what we know, or be from Russian territory

            — Obviously, from your point of view, “NATO must have lied” — if only you are used to judge the actions of others by the actions of the Russian government which, as we have seen many times, lies constantly.

          • Antidyatel:

            “Also the second photo was actually geolocated by others later to Krasnodon, while the photo of self-propelled “harvesters” is still in limbo.”

            The self-propelled “harvesters” photo is from an area somewhat north of Krasnodon (15 km) near Prydorzhnje. Its 20 km from the Russian border.

            48.401904°, 39.620069°

            The are numerous nearby firing locations and field encampments and field tracks visible in the 8/31/14 imagery.

            The howitzers are positioned aiming towards Novosvitlivka (held by Ukraine at that time) and Lugansk (held by the LNR at that time) and are within range of both.

            The area is directly east of Lugansk Airport. At the time, Ukraine had severed the E40 between Krasnodon and Lugansk east of Lugansk Airport. However, the Magic Russian White Truck Humanitarian Convoy somehow drove through this general area using field roads without being interdicted and reached Lugansk.

            Plausible options for howitzers:
            Russian Army shelling Novosvitlivka
            LNR Rebels shelling Novosvitlivka (captured or Russian supplied)
            Ukrainian Army shelling western Lugansk

            Your guess is as good as mine if that photo is all we have to go on.

          • Antidyatel // January 19, 2016 at 7:14 am //

            Thanks Andrew. It seems that idea by an intern in State department was to reinforce next picture, where self-propelled artillery is on the move two days before. The link between two is supposed to be just believed in.
            But I wonder if Prosto can see 2S19 Msta-B on photo from 21 August

          • Prosto Tak // January 20, 2016 at 2:12 am //


            > The link between two is supposed to be just believed in.
            But I wonder if Prosto can see 2S19 Msta-B on photo from 21 August

            If you ask for my personal opinion, the initial two and the final tree vehicles in the upper yellow frame singled out in this picture look mostly like 2S19s.

            And in the lower yellow frame, there are seven vehicles looking like self-propelled artillery pieces that are, most likely, 2S3s.


            However, I am not a military or a satellite imagery analyst so I would not “give a tooth for that” (c) Dmitry Rogozin, Russian Deputy Prime Minister*

            As for the link, did you really believe in any link between the pictures?

            When I saw the presentation, I never thought the pictures might have been directly related. Three were taken inside Russia, two in Ukraine, in different places and at different time. As you’ve correctly noticed, even the compass marks on them were styled differently, and, as I see now, most likely deliberately, exactly to show the pictures were not directly related.

            At one place and time, columns of armaments are smuggled into Ukraine; at another place and time, later and much to the North, but still near the border, artillery of an obvious non-Ukrainian provenance is at the firing positions at the occupied territories. Was that not clear to anyone?

            * Dmitry Rogozin and his teeth:

          • Prosto Tak // January 20, 2016 at 2:44 am //

            Antidyatel, and more,

            now as I have looked at the map I see that the picture with two convoys and the picture with 152-mm howitzer “harvesters” at a field were only taken about six or seven miles away — but also with a two-day difference. So I still do not consider them directly connected. In two days, much more other armaments could have entered Ukraine from nearby Russia.

            At the Google maps: the red marker is at the coordinates given by Andrew as the “battle harvesters” position of August 23, 2014 while the center of this map is the place where the convoys were seen on August 21

        • “So what of that? The compass hands were added in a photo editor by different persons who chose their own styles for it. ”

          So images from the same area, same time, same satellite are prepared by different persons. Plausible but weird. Someone had to assemble images to one presentation and consistency would be expected from intelligence and military sources.
          Are you seriously implying that NATO never lies;))))))

          Here is a good example. It also includes the total screw up with compass orientation. It seems that data is not from military but from State Department. Military and intelligence community refuse to be taken for a ride, like with all those fakes and manipulation of WMD.

        • If to move a bit to the east and follow tracks you can find original or following position of these units

          Can someone check if those positions appeared before or after 23 August? Don’t have Google Earth at hand now. Why wouldn’t NATO publish images when self-propelled “harvesters” were at those positions? These are organised defenses and units should have been there for a while.
          Goofing around the map I accidentally discovered a method that Russians are using to transfer hardware invisibly to exceptionals – they use Uber from aliens. Unless somebody has more plausible explanation to the spaceship landing pattern at this location.;)))

    • Europeans are just getting into the principle, at least officially on sending data via optical link to another satelites first and only then transfer it to earth using more efficient channels.

      But idea is known for quite long. And this is how SBIRS sends full resolution images to earth. And it is still beyond my understanding why few of these images cannot be made public

  4. Some small corrections:
    – The orbit most photographic reconnaissance satellites use is called a sun-synchronous orbit. This is a low circumpolar orbit which brings a satellite over a certain point at the same local time, and this makes image interpretation easier – the shadows are in the same direction, so if you see a different shadow, then something must have changed there.
    – Photographic reconnaissance satellites do not have 2-cm resolution, only aerial photography using spyplanes like the U-2 or SR-71 can achieve this. Satellites fly at least 10x faster and 10x higher, so they inevitably lose some resolution. As you mention, a resolution of 0.5 m is good enough for military purposes such as identifying aircraft types etc.
    – The best spy satellites are rumoured to achieve a resolution of 10cm, but this does not mean the always use this resolution due to various factors. In ancient times, pictures were taken on photographic film, where the resolution depends on the contrast, but was typical in the order of 100 lines/mm. A 56×89 mm film would thus have 50 MPx image size, and could display an area of 5.6 x 8.9 km at 1-m resolution, or 0.6 x 0.9 km at 10-cm resolution. As the satellite is moving at a speed of 7.5 km/s, the camera has to move in order to compensate for motion blur, which means that after each shot it has to be repositioned again, so high-resolution imagery is not always available.
    – Modern satellites use digital imagery, but more like a scanner than like a digicam. The problem is the datarate. Even the latest spy satellites rely on technology reminiscent of floppy disks and ISDN rather than what we are used on Earth nowadays, ecxept very remote locations. That’s why film return capsules were used in spy satellites after digital technology was consumer-grade. 50-MPx digital cameras are a relatively recent development, made possible only with the enhanced capabilities of storage and transmission of such huge amount of data.

  5. Keep it simple:

    No BUK, no launch.

    Therefore no american satellite images and no SBIRS detection. No eye witnesses for a BUK launch.

    The West can not tell us the truth because it would be obvious who did it if there is no BUK involved at all. That’s why John Kerry told us his lies.

    NATO can’t even give a hint to Bellingcat which commercial satellite images to purchase to support their story.

    It’s obvious.

    • Humans feel the truth by concentric circles. They make a projection to proclaimed truth. They build a record of radial speed to the truth. It is called intuition.

      If you are lying it is very difficult to hide your real motives. Intransitivity will alarm human intuition. Everything you say must be in accordance with you earlier said and did.

      So the way to truth always is a straight line. And the greater the catastrophe, the greater your radial speed to the center of truth must be. So emphatically there’s only one way strait to the truth.

      Now, in his first statement Kerry projected a way straight to the truth which he did not continue. In the rebound we find him a liar, maybe unjustified.

      The behavior of a number of parties in the MH17 affair must consist entirely of lies. I especially call the Dutch government.

      Also how Ukraine behaved after the assault on MH17 cannot be seen as a straight line to some form of truth.

      Also the Russians are random liars.

      It’s a mess which we can easily decipher, since it seems politicians do not understand truth does not change with polls.

  6. Marcel:

    “The degration is likely the removal of stars so the orbit of the satellite carrying the SBIRS sensors cannot be determined.”

    If the satellite somehow is not already detected and cataloged in orbit in the HeavensAbove website, almost certainly the Russian space command has independently calculated the orbit and has imaged the satellite from the ground to be able to determine its precise capabilities. The Russian’s released imagery about a year ago of an American spy satellite photographed by the Altay space command from the ground.

    • It is correct that Russia will have catalogued the SBIRS satellites through its own tracking network. Likewise, an independant network of observers to which I belong, has catalogued them.

      However, “imaged the satellite from the ground to be able to determine its precise capabilities” is definitely not the case.

      These SBIRS GEO and HEO satellites are satellites orbiting at very high altitudes (36 000+ km). The ground-imaged satellites you refer to on the other hand, are all of satellites in low orbits (orbiting at a few hundred km altitude, so several orders of a magnitude lower). For satellites at GEO or HEO altitudes, telescope resolutions are simply not accurate enough to reveal anything useful: a 10 meter object at geostationary distance measures only 0.00001 degree (0.06 arcsecond) – about the same apparent size as the disc of the dwarfplanet Pluto.

      For “catalogued in orbit by HeavensAbove” see my comment to your earlier reply. HeavensAbove itself catalogues nothing: they make predictions based on orbital element catalogues created by others (for the classified objects: our network).

  7. Marcel:

    “It is interesting to know if Russia has SBIRS kind of satellites which could provide data. And if they have, what was the position of the Russian satellites?”

    SBIRS relies on space-based radar/infrared type imaging, and Russia does have satellites with such a capability. Images from one of them of Zaroshchenske were released for July 18, a cloudy day. The radar imaging was used to pierce the clouds and provide a ground image.

    More simply, Russia’s nuclear defense would be near toothless without the ability to detect missile launches from space within at most minutes of the occurrence.

  8. A few comments and corrections:

    – Orbits for classified satellites (such as SBIRS and KH-11) are actually available, as these are tracked by an independent, international network of observers (including me).

    – SBIRS in itself does NOT have the capability to detect radar signals. The two SBIRS HEO packages are however “piggybacked” on two SIGINT satellites, USA 184 and USA 200. So they ad a SBIRS capacity to these SIGINT platforms, but it is misleading to say SBIRS itself can detect radar signals.

    – Russia did no longer have an operational early warning capacity in 2014. In 2015, they started with the first launch of a new system to re-build that capacity. Whether China has such a capacity is not entirely clear: but not for as far as we know.

    – Your text might give the impression that there are 17 KH-11 satellites. This is incorrect. You probably write this because 17 KH-11 were launched since 1976. However: mid-2014 there were only 4 KH-11 satellites still on-orbit (USA 161, USA 186, USA 224 and USA 245), the earlier ones all have been de-orbitted.

    – Radar satellieten: er is nog één Lacrosse satelliet on-orbit (Lacrosse 5 gelanceerd in 2005), de rest is de-orbitted. Er zijn echter na Lacrosse 5 ook nog drie nieuwe radar satellieten uit de FIA klasse gelanceerd.

    There are a few other things to remark, but I keep it at this for the moment.

  9. Actually, the issue with radar signals is also quite interesting. In the first days after events a lot of media with fake aplomb was talking about USA being able to detect radar signal from not just BUK but from its missile.
    Here for example

    But Buk missile is using semi-active radar homing which means that the radar is just a receiver of a signal reflected from the target. It doesn’t really emit much. Later that story telling was polished away.

    In any case the radar data would also be nice to have from USA. As Buk search and target radars are quite directional

  10. The National Reconnaissance Office has recently declassified one design of a space based IR spy telescope. The specs are impressive: a 2.4 metre main mirror. Some details are here:

  11. Liane Theuer // January 14, 2016 at 8:59 pm // Reply

    A little bit off topic, but very interesting :

    „MH17 radar images anonymously emailed to survivors foundation
    The foundation representing the relatives of the victims of flight MH17, Stichting Vliegramp MH17, received three anonymous emails containing stationary radar images of the airline disaster, broadcaster NOS reports.
    The origin of the emails is unclear. They contain texts in Russian and Ukrainian. The foundation had experts look at the images and they determined them authentic. The emails will be given to the Public Prosecutor, who will determine whether they can be used in the criminal investigation into the disaster. (..)
    The relatives believe that the US is in possession of radar images, based on a 2014 statement by US Secretary of State John Kerry in which he says that they saw the take-off, trajectory and hit. According to NOS, the American images were not made available, because the country does not want to make known how it came into possession of the images.“

    • “The foundation had experts look at the images and they determined them authentic. ”

      Not a good argument to use after Leontiev was duped with fighter jet attacking Boeing photoshop. He also claimed that experts looked another picture and found it authentic.
      MSMs and info-warriers are still using it to claim that Russian government tried to deceive world with that photo, eventhough it was pathetic job of one idiotic pro-kremlin journalist.

  12. Here’s the original Dutch item at NOS:

    A strange thing is, no one has published the images that were supposed to be sensational.

    “Were supposed” — because they are not any more. The Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office said the images had been long known and contained no new information. In Dutch:

    So, no sensation this time.

    • Liane Theuer // January 15, 2016 at 12:28 pm // Reply

      „ The Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office said the images had been long known and contained no new information.“

      What does that mean ? May be the anonymous source had sent the Mails to the DSB, too. But then they realized that the DSB took no use of it.
      May be the anonymous source then decided to send the radar pictures to Stichting Vliegramp MH17, in the assumption that the Foundation is not as caught up in political considerations as the DSB.
      Basic Dimension Basic is thinking in the same direction as I do.

      And yes, it would be a real sensation if it shows ukrainian primary radar !
      Then both the Ukraine and the DSB would have huge problems !
      I hope that Stichting Vliegramp MH17 will not be silenced.

  13. “The Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office said the images had been long known and contained no new information.”
    That is a very stupid statement from official. If the images were known why they were not used in the report. Even if there is no new information, they could use them as either for reinforcing their other arguments or just by saying that there are radar images but with no new information. 3 more pages in appendix will not make there report more heavy. Instead they said that there is no radar data used in the report.
    I wonder what are those images, and if they were used in public before. Because if not, DSB is in trouble

    • Radar images sent anonymously to Stichting Vliegramp MH17 were already known to JIT according to Dutch prosecutor at Januari 14, 2016.

      Well, then there might be something rotten here.

      Anonymously? So it came from frightened Ukrainians? Is the MH17 investigation a bad joke? Why all these communication errors?

      Did someone earlier made the silly mistake to send radar images to the wrong Dutch entity, to DSB? And did DSB not publish about these radar images in their report? Have writers in the rebound felt urged to send the radar images directly to Stichting Vliegramp MH17? Is this a cry for help? Dying truth in the desert?

      As said, this definitely means these radar images are from Russian or Ukrainian radar. It might be secondary radar images but what if it is primary surveillance radar information from Ukraine? Then Ukraine has lied. It also could be Russian primary surveillance radar photos saved from the trash.

      After all DSB has concluded earlier in their report, this can be hot information. Because it possibly does not agree with the conclusions of the DSB report.

      But then we have got a political problem. Is someone lying on this scene? It might be someone earlier has got Ukrainian primary radar images what JIT does not want to acknowledge and which information was not published in the DSB report. Because Ukraine said it had no primary surveillance radar data available.

      We already know satellite and / or radar information of the USA likely influenced the conclusions of the DSB report. But we don’t know how. We also know the DSB report has some scientific status which is the foundation of the work of JIT. So, JIT might be in trouble too.

      Besides radar information from the Americans – which we do not have – we are very curious about any radar images from the other side, which we apparently have. Why not published in the DSB report? Why not published by JIT today?

      We don’t mind what JIT thinks already to have as information. We don’t have it. So I urge the Stichting Vliegramp MH17 to disclose all data including the enclosed letter immediately.

      Otherwise anonymous senders will lose patience and publish the data by themselves.

  14. Denis Cashcov // January 15, 2016 at 4:11 am // Reply

    If the radar images agree with what the Dutch have already hinted at or said then there is no problem. If the radar images do not agree with what they have said or hinted at, then the Dutch are in an bind and must make sure what ever they say publicly is very vague from now on

  15. I think Robert Perry is right. Proper intelligence services are not participating in the sham. All satellite data comes from State Department based on images from commercial satelites and analysed and assembled together by some interns using power point. That is why in Syria and Ukraine all images are coming from respective embassadors

  16. As mentioned by other commenters, the orbital parameters of such observation satellites are well known, and it is even possible to attribute a taken picture to a certain satellite. For instance, of the satellite pictures presented by the Russian DoD, 21 July, 3 of the pictures presented were probably shot by the “Persona-2” Satellite, and 2 other by its civilian cousin, the “Resurs-P1”
    The “Persona-2” spy satellite was shot into orbit in 2013, but because of computer malfunctions went operational only in June 2014, just in time to observe the tragic events involving MH17. This was the first time ever that images from a then active Russian reconnaissance satellite were published, so to nobody’s surprise they were heavily “photoshopped” in order to not reveal the true capabilities of that system.

    The Russian communiqué refuting the Ukrainian counterargument is somewhat hilarious, as it mentions that the Ukraine’s two spy satellites, Sich-1 and Sich-2 were not overflying that area at that time, as it fails to mention that those 2 satellites have been inoperable since 1996, and 2012, respecively; but it shows how Russian propaganda works: Any attempt to refute the Russian allegations, that the Ukrainians had received their intelligence from Uncle Sam, not from their own assets, would take off like a lead balloon.

    • The comment about Sich-1 & 2 was meant to be a subtle joke about the lack of capability of Ukraine.

    • “The Russian communiqué refuting the Ukrainian counterargument is somewhat hilarious”
      Are you joking? SBU directly said that those satellite images were maid by Ukrainian services
      That was a lie. Unless DigitalGlobe belongs to SBU. Russian MOD could not assume so, so they looked for anything that remotely can belong to Ukrainian services. No much of propaganda there

      • Actually, it was “Ukrayinska Pravda” media outlet that made a false claim about “satellite photos made by Ukrainian security services.” The SBU did not say that.

        What they did say was: “The Security Service of Ukraine received the satellite data, confirming the falsification of the evidence concerning the disaster of Boeing 777 flight MH17 by the Russian Ministry of Defense.”

        And they did not say from where they received the data.

        The original Ukrainian version is identical: “The Security Service of Ukraine has received the space photo imagery data…”

        So all the talk about “images from Ukrainian satellites” in this event were groundless conjectures.

        • So SBU provided specific dates and timing. Was it correct?

        • “Actually, it was “Ukrayinska Pravda” media outlet that made a false claim about “satellite photos made by Ukrainian security services.” The SBU did not say that.”

          That article in quotes the SBU boss as saying that, if this translation from Yandex is correct:

          “This was told on Wednesday the head of counterintelligence SBU Vitaly Naida.
          He provided for the comparison of satellite images taken by the Ukrainian secret services, and Russian fake images provided by the international Commission as evidence of the alleged attack aircraft of the Ukrainians.”

          unless “taken by” can also mean “received by”?

          I’m still not sure if the Russian comment on Sich-1 and Sich-2 was ironic/sarcastic. If it was, it was lost on very many people, like me, who were not knowledgable about Ukrainian satellites.

          • They didn’t really ‘quote’ him on that, but that’s what they reported about what he said.

          • Prosto Tak // January 24, 2016 at 10:33 pm //

            Brendan, the translation of the article in the Ukrayinska Pravda is correct but the outlet is notorious by their interpretations (and often misinterpretations) of the events instead of reporting on them as they were. In this event, their words about “satellite images taken by the Ukrainian secret services” were their own fantasies which had no ground in what the SBU really said.

            So, the Russian comments on the Ukrainian satellites, whatever they might have been supposed to be, can only be the evidence that the Russians did not follow the original SBU briefing but only its wrong interpretations by secondary sources.

          • Prosto Tak:

            “In this event, their words about “satellite images taken by the Ukrainian secret services” were their own fantasies which had no ground in what the SBU really said.”

            Digital Globe sells their services for hire, especially to puppet client governments of the United States.

            Most likely, Ukraine’s SBU hired Digital Globe to take images specifically for them.

    • As far as I know, there is no evidence that the Russian satellite photos were heavily “photoshopped”? The argument depends on whether you believe the Russian MoD on the one hand, or else the SBU and DigitalGlobe, who receive most of their revenue from the US government. The end users of much of DG’s products are the US military and intelligence services, who were almost certainly interested in those images of the Ukrainian war zone.

      • Brendan, you may not believe in the digital forensics provided by Bellingcat and others, but the main argument was the fact that the image background used for the Russian pictures was taken at a different time from what the Russians claimed.

        So, while the “Ukrainian Buks’ were either photoshopped in the images or actually pictured there, those Russian images themselves were taken not just before MH17 was shot down but much earlier and thus had nothing to do with the tragedy in any case.

        • “… but the main argument was the fact that the image background used for the Russian pictures was taken at a different time from what the Russians claimed”

          Which was rubbish. The socalled terrain inconsistencies cooked up by the SBU and 9 months later recycled by Bellingcat as “new” evidence were strictly attributable to characteristics of the images.

          The Russians used low resolution, low contrasted images with low brightness.

          The 7/17 Zaroshchenskoye SATs are far from debunked. In their second report, after the first one was devastated by criticism, Bellingcat never mentioned these SATs again.

        • “… those Russian images themselves were taken not just before MH17 was shot down but much earlier …”

          The evidence for that claim also comes from images fom DigitalGlobe, so it’s not very independent evidence. Those were the ones released many months later to Google Earth, where Bellingcat found them.

          After that length of time, it was impossible to verify exactly when the pictures were taken. So it’s possible that either the Russian images were taken much earlier than the MoD claimed, or that the Google Earth/Digital Globe images were taken much later than the date given for them.

          If the Russian MoD’s were really faked or wrongly dated, the US could have debunked them within hours by presenting real images of the site from various days in July 2014. The fact that they missed that opportunity suggests that they could not contradict what the Russian MoD said.

          • Prosto Tak // January 25, 2016 at 11:03 am //

            Brendan, I think it is rather obvious that the US chose to debunk the Russian claims indirectly, giving the correct images to SBU to publish them in their own name.

            And if the US were to publish anything themselves you would still say that it was a US fake. But if you don’t believe in anything from the US or Ukrainian side you should have no reason to believe anything also from the Russian side.

          • Amazing that no one can produce a single ground photo showing the trees/shrubs on the west side of Base A-1428 cut down per Digital Globe.

            How hard could this be? Simple way to prove who is right.

          • Hugh Eaven // June 3, 2016 at 8:38 pm //

            “The Russians used low resolution, low contrasted images with low brightness.”

            Not all all. The Russians used probably their Persona-2 satellite which has 0.33 meter max ground resolution using panchromatic. You can actually see it’s sharper although Digital Globe’s multi-spectral blending enhances at places the total resolution further, if you accept distortion.

            The Google Earth/Digital Globe Worldview-2 satellite does 0.46-0.50 for panchromatic and 1.84-2.4 for multi-spectral.

            What GE & DB show and also Bellingcat shows is the multi-spectral software rendering of blending various separate spectral images to achieve something “good on the eye” and for general use.

            The Russian panchromatic simply shows different things in the soil. Don’t believe me, check out details of soil and roads. It’s a spy satellite, they need to see soil, paths and changes on the ground. And “greens” are notoriously hard to get right in multi-spectral merging . You can see this often at Google Earth, regular green washed out stuff and distortions. The reasons can be found described in various public Digital Globe white papers. Not going to repeat and spoon feed that here as it’s very complex stuff to summarize.

            It’s my cautious opinion that no manipulation at all is done on any satellite image or their dates. There’s just no strong evidence and what is there is not falsifiable by other means right now (apart from getting all original multi-spectral and panchromatic versions perhaps).

            Although I do not believe the Buk seemingly moved was used to attack MH-17 with. That doesn’t mean it’s not evidence of something Ukraine doesn’t want to talk about: mobilization of their air defenses before and on the 17th. It’s the reason why it showed up again too.

          • Hugh:

            It was what the Russians told themselves in an 1 Agust 2014 press statement which was a reply to a 31.7.2014 presser from the ukrainians.

            They said this about the Ukr. comparison of the 17.7 Zaroshchenskoye SAT with their own SAT from the 16th to point to “terrain inconsistencies”:

            “The resolution of the Russian satellite image on Slide 5 has been deliberately lowered, which resulted in the outlines the terrain (i.e. field) looking smeared.”


            Furthermore, its widely assumed now they misdated their 14.7.2014 SAT of airforce base A-1428 and digitally altered the 17.7.2014 SAT of the same site.

            This was however a minor issue, as it was meant to show there were operative Buks positioned there and the question raised was:

            Where were the still operative Buks from this arforce base after they were evacuated just before the base was attacked by the separatists?

            It is still possible the Zaroshchenskoye SAT has some value. But more important is the chance Buks from the 1st battalion (1**), moved from A-1428, were positioned around Amvrosievka these days. From Amvrosievka to Velyka Shyshivka and Zaroshchenskoye goes a road through entirely empty land.

            The second battalion (2**) was said to have been stationed in Mariupol area, and would also have been able to come up north to support Kiev defense against Russian Migs, which allegedly had downed a SU-25M the day before.

            Anyway, it should have been tactically really sound to locate a Buk in that area to shield their airforce from Russian planes.

            (I have even seen accounts – but this is very premature as I haven’t researhced it – Dnjepr-1 private force paid by Ihor Kolomoyiskiy was on its way from Mariupol to Amvrosievka on the 17th).

            According to some tweets Amvrosievka was evacuated on the 17th, allegedly -as read in a RNBO press statement – to re-capture the border area and free up the “Southern Cauldron”, the area were Ukrainian army was stuck after the fall of Marinovka.

          • sotilaspassi // June 4, 2016 at 2:58 pm //

            I think all RU provided SAT images so far have been proven to be fake.

            (SAT not in sky when RU say it was, time of day (shadow mismatch vs time), inconsistent shadows due to poor photoshop, items added and removed to image, etc etc.)

            Only propaganda trolls believe in anything that comes from RU any more vs MH17.

          • Sotilaspassi:

            Maybe because the Russians were caught by surprise and tons of fake Ukrainian evidence, and had to come up with something – not entirely according to “truth” but nevertheless asking valid questions.

            The fake Ukrainian evidence comprised:

            – The manipulation of the meaning of the retracted Strelkov_info posting, a message consisting of traceable social media information bits. (Actually you are putting in your 2 cents yourself by stating LifeNews was with the shooting when all their information is copied from Strelkov_info, even the video of the smoke they showed)).

            – The fake Bezler confession taps matching events from the 16th, to further bolster the fatal mistake narrative;

            – The disinformation regarding the narrative of the “fleeing Buk at Luhansk missing one missile”.

            – The disinformation issued at a 19.7 presser showing their own Buk 312 to be a Russian Buk responsible for downing Mh17.

            – The fake Khmuryi taps, spliced and edited to construct a narrative of a “big terrorist convoy” consisting of Vostok vehicles and the Buk.

            – The misdated “Birdie comes to you taps”, leaving a Buk crew only 30 seconds to go through command structure and launch sequence based on information from an incompetent spotter;

            – The fake Paris Match stills with wrong location and time.

            – The ever changing Ukrainian story from Buk seized from airforce base via the insane false flag Moskow-Larnaca story with the Russians choosing the wrong Pervokaiske to the Kursk Buk story;

            – The leaking of possible misdated or even faked information, like the Luhansk Buk video, the Zuhres video and the Snizhne video, and other stuff from unknown sources and unknown date.

            So the Ukrainians were prepared to fight a full fledged informationwar, as it seems, perhaps because they had more info about the downing?

            The Russians, not knowing what was coming over them after seeing many pieces of “evidence” rolling from a conveyerbelt like ready-made product for consumption, had to do something.

            So they asked some questions like: Where did your Buks go when they were evacuated from Airforce base A-1428?? – and used some misdated and altered stuff to it.

  17. morris jones // February 8, 2016 at 10:21 am // Reply

    Amateur satellite tracker Marco Langbroek as Dutch Parliament expert on military satellite systems

    The following is totally disregarded and probably the reason why Marco Langbroek remains cluless in his report.
    Of course the handful paltry three SBIRS cited by Marco Langbroek in his report fall way short of the 20,000 military spy sats! This is like mistaking a Malaysian giant centipede for an earthworm!

    “Spy Satellites Spotted Disguised as Space Junk”

    Russia has discovered a group of spy satellites gathering Russian communications signals while masquerading as space junk, aerospace defense commander Major General Oleg Maidanovich said in a television report on Sunday.

    The commander told the Zvezda military-themed television channel that it was common practice to disguise spy satellites as space debris — defunct satellites, rocket stages and other fragments of technology sent up into space that still orbit the Earth.

    Such satellites can remain inactive in orbit for years before turning on, or “waking up,” Maidanovich told the channel’s reporter during a tour of Russia’s main center for aerospace intelligence in the Moscow region town of Krasnoznamensk.

    He added that when his division finds a spy satellite, they report it to the country’s leadership for a decision to be made on an international level, but there is currently no talk about destroying them.

    Russia’s aerospace defense forces monitor daily about 20,000 objects orbiting the planet — out of about 100,000 — because such objects could have a military purpose, according to the report.

  18. sotilaspassi // June 3, 2016 at 4:36 pm // Reply

    Interesting stuff about satellite orbits (vs RU sat images etc…)

  19. sotilaspassi // April 21, 2017 at 12:15 pm // Reply

    I wonder where x37b was when MH17 was shot ….

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