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Orion 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Orion ? [NRO]

The Orion 3 - 9 satellites, which are generally known as 'Advanced Orion' or 'Mentor', are geostationary signals intelligence satellites, which replaced the Magnum / Orion series. Their purpose is to intercept missile telemetry from Russia and China and the COMINT capability of the Mercury satellites was merged into this series. These satellites are launched under the designation Program 7600.

Although this satellite series was originally designed for FISINT (Foreign Instrumentation Signals Intelligence), they are now primarily used as COMINT collectors, with about 85% of their work is againt COMINT targets. Some were collocated with Thuraya mobile communications satellites.

These satellites feature a large dish antenna for signal reception, which has reportedly a diameter of ~100 m. The main body has the shape of an octagonal prism, carrying an large array of different antennas, among them a smaller deployable dish. The combination of fixed and steerable feeds allows simultaneous collection againt multiple signal types (COMINT, ELINT, MASINT, etc.) located across a broad geographic aera. The satellites of this series are injected directly into the final orbit by the launch vehicle's upper stage, so they do not feature an apogee propulsion system. These satellites have a significantly larger mass as the first two Magnum / Orion satellites.

Additionally to the SIGINT task, these satellites also included a communications cross-link system in space and had some limited data relay capability.

The NROL 15 launch is suspected to be the eighth satellite in the Orion series, but due to the higher power launch vehicle, a modified version is also possible. It is also possible, that the satellites called here Orion 8 and following might in fact be improved versions funded under the SHARP (SIGINT High Altitude Replenishment Program).

Nation: USA
Type / Application: SIGINT, ELINT, COMINT
Operator: NRO, CIA, NSA
Contractors: TRW → Northrop Grumman Space Technology
Equipment: ?
Configuration: Large Dish Antenna, 3-Axis-Stabilization
Propulsion: ?
Power: Solar arrays, batteries
Lifetime: ?
Mass: ?
Orbit: GEO
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
Orion 3 (USA 110) 1995-022A 14.05.1995 CC LC-40 Titan-4(01)A Centaur-T
Orion 4 (USA 139, NROL 6) 1998-029A 09.05.1998 CC LC-40 Titan-4(01)B Centaur-T
Orion 5 (USA 171, NROL 19) 2003-041A 09.09.2003 CC LC-40 Titan-4(01)B Centaur-T
Orion 6 (USA 202, NROL 26) 2009-001A 18.01.2009 CC SLC-37B Delta-4H
Orion 7 (USA 223, NROL 32) 2010-063A 21.11.2010 CC SLC-37B Delta-4H
Orion 8 ? (USA 237, NROL 15) 2012-034A 29.06.2012 CC SLC-37B Delta-4H (upg.)
Orion 9 ? (USA 268, NROL 37) 2016-036A 11.06.2016 CC SLC-37B Delta-4H (upg.)
Orion 10 ? (NROL 44) - 2019 CC SLC-37B Delta-4H (upg.)
Orion 11 ? (NROL 68) - 2020 CC SLC-37B Delta-4H (upg.)

References:

Further high orbit SIGINT missions:

Geostationary orbit COMINT (Canyon-Chalet-Vortex-Mercury series) Geostationary orbit SIGINT (Rhyolite-Aquacade-Magnum-Orion series) High elliptical orbit SIGINT (Jumpseat-Trumpet series)