A secret data relay
satellite that will be used to transfer information from different
military imaging and eavesdropping spacecraft to the Central
Intelligence Agency and U. S. Defense Department, is set for launch
from Cape Canaveral late October 10, according to Aviation Week &
Space Technology.

Depending upon its final orbit, the new relay satellite could be
used to route data involved in U. S. counter-terrorism operations or
intelligence data specifically related to military operations in
Afghanistan. Its launch was scheduled months before the September 11
terrorist attacks, but the new spacecraft will bolster the overall U.
S. ability to route critical intelligence data to ground based
analysts, AW&ST said.

The National Reconnaissance Office satellite was built by Boeing
and is to be launched between 10:15 and 11:15 p.m. EDT on board an
Atlas-Centaur booster. The Atlas is built by Lockheed Martin and
operated by International Launch Services. The total cost of the
mission is about $500 million with most of that going for the NRO
satellite, according to AW&ST.

Imaging spacecraft, like an advanced KH-11 satellite launched from
Vandenberg AFB, Calif. October 5, fly in low orbits that circle the
earth traveling from south to north over the poles. These spacecraft
are out of contact with ground stations for long periods of time.

Relay satellites like the one to be launched October 10, however,
fly at up to 25,000 mi. altitude. This allows the lower altitude
imaging spacecraft to transmit data up to the relay satellites, which
in turn route it to distant ground stations for transfer to the CIA
and Defense Department.

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EDITORS NOTE: Aviation Week & Space Technology senior editor Craig
Covault is available to provide background information and interviews
on the impact the relay satellite will have on intelligence gathering