When President Trump tweeted that the U.S. was not involved in the launch explosion at Iran’s Semnan Launch Site One, he might have accidentally betrayed the KH-11 photo reconnaissance project. According to CNBC, a U.S. defense official confirmed that the picture was part of that Friday’s intelligence briefing, and experts have said that the picture was never meant for public view.
Besides the obvious question of whether the president blew the lid off a top-secret operation, was the question of how the picture was taken in the first place.
Spy satellites have been with us since the dawn of the Space Age. In fact, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which maintains a database of operational satellites, says that as of March, there were more than 2,000 of the devices in Earth orbit, 176 of which were operated by the U.S. military. In total, roughly 5,000 satellites are in orbit, most no longer operational. It’s a good bet that many of those are loaded down with cameras and other sensors used to keep tabs on adversaries.