Patches for classified missions can sometimes provide otherwise-unavailable insights into the nature of those missions.
Secrets and signs
By Dwayne A. Day & Roger Guillemette
One of the biggest movies currently in theaters is National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Like its predecessor, the movie is a lot of silliness and ’splosions, a nonstop chase as the hero travels around the world to decipher clues leading to a city of gold underneath Mount Rushmore. Much of the plot hinges upon the Freemasons, a secretive society that has left symbols with mysterious meanings, and that some people believe actually controls the American government and even the entire world. One symbol commonly attributed to the Freemasons is the “all seeing eye”, or “eye of providence”, often depicted over a pyramid. This symbol appears in the movie and is even featured in the movie poster, but is most familiar to Americans because it is on the back of the one-dollar bill.
Those obsessed with Freemason conspiracy theories would probably go into orbit after learning that in 2000 the secretive National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) launched a satellite into space whose official mission patch featured a symbol nearly identical to the one on the dollar bill. While this was probably not a Freemason satellite, the “all-seeing eye” was undoubtedly intended to serve the same symbolic function as an observation satellite does in reality. (Ed Comment: To spy? Like the Information Awareness Office, with a “somewhat” similar logo?) More interesting to those obsessed with the NRO is the fact that the patch also features four stars hovering in the sky. Independent observers claimed that the classified satellite launched into orbit was actually the fourth of its type. Four stars. Four satellites.
Military patches and logos—simply the latest examples of heraldry dating back thousands of years—are by definition symbolic, so it is no surprise that they contain symbols. What is surprising is that these symbols often reveal information about the satellites’ identities and missions that are otherwise classified.
It turns out that this hidden symbolism in the patches produced for classified spacecraft launches is far more prevalent than previously believed. Although many official patches for classified missions do not offer any clues to their payloads, there are nearly two dozen mission logos, rocket launch patches, and/or accompanying payload patches that contain hints about the mission of a classified payload. The most common symbolism is a correlation between the number of stars in the patch and the number of satellites of that type launched into orbit over many years. Also common are Latin phrases referring to surveillance or watchfulness. But other features include indications of the satellites’ orbits, their construction, and even their tortured history to get off the ground. Although the first time that the media noticed this symbolism was in 2000, and to date only three examples have been reported in the press, the practice possibly dates as far back as 1977 and includes far more examples than anyone has previously recognized.
Fellowship of the dice
When an Atlas 5 rocket thundered aloft from its launch pad on Florida’s sunny coast on December 10, 2007, reporters knew that the sponsor of the launch—the agency that owned the payload—was the NRO. They also received updates about the launch’s progress right up through four and a half minutes into the flight, when the payload fairing separated. At that point, the Air Force stopped releasing progress reports to prevent disclosure of the spacecraft’s secret mission and orbital parameters. But although the NRO and the Air Force officially replied with a “no comment” to any questions about the payload, there was a glaringly blatant hint plastered on the side of the rocket’s nosecone. A big circular logo was affixed to the side of the payload fairing bearing the constellation name “Scorpius” and a graphical representation of the constellation. This was not that unusual: for nearly a decade now several NRO launches—but not the payloads themselves—have been named for constellations. The important hint was below the constellation.
Below the stars of Scorpio the logo featured an image of the Earth surrounded by three red satellite orbits. One of these circled the Earth at the equator, symbolizing a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, and the other two were in highly-elliptical, highly-inclined orbits, often referred to as HEO or, more traditionally, “Molniya” orbits after the early Soviet Union satellites that pioneered this path around the Earth. Those two types of orbits are occupied by a class of American communications data-relay satellites originally known by the name the Satellite Data System, or SDS, and that one source states was later named Quasar. Also painted on the logo was the Latin phrase Caveo Noster Morsus, which, loosely translated, means “I gather up our little bites”—a perfect description for the SDS mission.