AKA: AFP-731;KH-12. Status: Operational 1990. First Launch: 1990-02-28. Last Launch: 1999-05-22. Number: 2 .
The Misty stealth satellite originated as a countermeasure to Soviet efforts to conceal weapons development and suspected strategic missile treaty violations from known American reconnaissance satellites. The spacecraft was designed to be difficult to detect and be capable of large maneuvers in order to thwart Russian efforts to keep track of it. It would also have been difficult to locate and destroy the satellite in times of superpower war.
On 21 June 2007 Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell cancelled the multibillion-dollar spy satellite program, , known publicly as the next generation of "Misty" satellites. Engineers had hoped these spacecraft would someday pass undetected through the space above other nations.
McConnell gave no reason for his decision, saying only : "I have been advised when I was getting ready for this job, you have to do two things: kill a multibillion-dollar program. Just did that..and fire somebody important. So I'm searching," The satellite's true name was not publicly known, but it was believed to have been assigned a designation of a letter followed by numbers.
Deployed from STS-36 February 28, 1990. Said to be designated 'Misty', and believed to be the first maneouvering stealth satellite. Barely visible, it was rediscovered by amateur observors in October 1990, with a ground track that repeated every nine days. It maneouvered again in early November 1990, changing its inclination by 1.2 degrees and entering a lower orbit with a three-day repeating ground track. Amateurs again found it in 1996 and 1997 in a 66.2 degree orbit with a 99.4 minute period. The decay date for the active satellite is believed to refer instead to debris; the actually satellite was probably deorbited after 1997, perhaps after USA 144 (Misty 2?) was put into operation.
This classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite represented the first successful Titan launch in four attempts. The payload had been reported to be a Lacrosse radar imaging reconnaissance satellite. However the short 50 foot Titan fairing was used instead of the 66 foot fairing used by Lacrosse. This only seems to be used previously for an Improved Crystal photo-reconnaissance satellite in November 1992. The payload therefore could be related to the ocean surveillance triplets, or be an Improved CRYSTAL derivative. Veteran amateur satellite-watchers believed it was the second launch of 'Misty', a stealthy optical reconnaisance satellite (the first launch being USA 53 in February 1990).