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Amateur satellite trackers claim to believe that an image tweeted by President Trump on Friday comes from one of America's most advanced spy satellites.
The image almost certainly comes from a satellite known as US 224, according to Marco Langbrock, a satellite based in the Netherlands. The satellite was launched by the National Intelligence Service in 2011. Almost everything remains highly classified, but Langbrook says that based on its size and orbit, most observers believe US 224 is one of the multibillion-dollar KH-11 intelligence satellites in America .  "It's essentially a very large telescope, not unlike the Hubble Space Telescope," Langbrock says. "But instead of looking at the stars, he looks down at the earth and makes very detailed images."
The image tweeted by Trump on Friday showing the aftermath of an incident at the Iranian Space Center Imam Khomeini was so detailed that some experts doubted whether it could really come from a satellite high above the planet.
Iran was preparing to launch a rocket known as Safir with a small satellite aboard, but experts believe it exploded while refueling. The image showed a clear letter drawn on the edge of the launch pad, a burnt out truck used to move the rocket, and other details.
Trump appears to have used sensitive intelligence to troll the Iranians. "The United States was not involved in the catastrophic incident during the final launch preparations for the launch of the SLV Safir launch at the Semnan launch site in Iran," the president tweeted. "I wish Iran the best of luck and good luck in determining what happened on the site first."
The United States of America did not participate in the catastrophic accident during the final launch preparations for the launch of the Safir SLV at the Semnan launch site in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened on the site first. pic.twitter.com/z0iDj2L0Y3
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2019
But a small community of amateur satellite trackers was far more interested in the picture than the words, These people use telescopes in the backyard to observe satellites whistling through the sky, and they know where most of them are – even classified as US 224. "They are super bright in the sky and easy to find," says Michael Thompson astronomy graduate student at Purdue University, who sees his free satellites in your spare time. Once a satellite is seen, it is relatively easy to determine exactly where it will be at any given time in the future. "Using math to calculate orbits is really easy," he says.
Thompson was one of the first to use curatorial amateur bases from known satellites to point his finger at US 224. He showed that he was flying over the Iranian Center shortly after the incident.
Langbrook went on. He was able to reconstruct a photo taken by US 224 by matching the slant of the circular pad in an image tweeted by Trump. His calculation shows that the photo was taken by US object 224. Langbrock and another online researcher, Christian Tribert also used shadows cast from towers around the launch pad as sun sets – allowing them to check the weather  Both techniques point the finger at US 224, which flies near the site at 14:14 local time. "In fact, the match was perfect," Langbrock says.
So the position of the satellite at 09:44:23 was taken, and at STK I launched the viewq from the satellite point to the launch platform. This led to this. This is a very good coincidence, so there is no doubt in my mind that this is an image taken by US 224. pic.twitter.com/R4XGdnzPis
– Dr. Marco Langbrook (@Marco_Langbroek) August 31, 2019
Prior to the analysis, some experts suspected that the image in Trump's tweet may have come from a drone or a spy plane.
"When I saw the image, it was so crystal clear and high resolution that I didn't believe it could come from satellite," says Melissa Hanam satellite imaging expert and deputy director of Open Nuclear But finding the new analysis convincing. "Given that the satellite was in position at the moment, it is very likely now that it was [the source of the picture]," she says.
Hanham says, that the astounded satellite can provide such clear images. Spy satellites need to look through Earth's atmosphere, which is a bit like trying to look at objects at the bottom of a swimming pool. They also have to snap their pictures while playing across the sky. Both effects can obscure the fine details in the images.
"Now I'm scratching my head and I'm curious how they take into account the effects of the atmosphere and the movement of objects, "she says.
And she says she thinks she's not alone. Others will try to use the image to learn more about how the US works 224. "I imagine that the adversaries will look at this image and will not make reverse to understand how the sensor itself and what postoproizvodstveni techniques used, "she says.
Hanham questions whether Trump's tweet citing Iranians has cost the information this image provides to other nations, but she adds, "This is his decision as president."