United States President Donald Trump was at it again on his favorite outlet Twitter. On August 30 he posted a highly detailed picture of the unfortunate aftermath of an Iranian Safir rocket launch attempt on the El Khomeini launchpad.


Analyis of the picture, shows that it is not the original digital datafile. It has clearly been photographed as scatter from the flash from the camera is visible in the center. In the top left hand, some details have been blacked-out, and this is perfectly straight, so this points at a digital operation performed on the data file from the camera with which the photo was taken.

Obviously not obvious for the president, based on this picture, the highly classified performance of a clandestine US satellite has been revealed. Based on the shadows from the poles and the known geolocation of the El Khomeini launchpad, the time of observation can be determined, plus or minus a few minutes. Based on the ellipticity of the observed launchpad, which is circular, based on Google Maps pictures, in combination with the compass in the top right, both the azimuth and elevation of the observation can be fixed.

Using freely available tools for Satellite Orbit simulation like STK, and the knowledge from the Amateur Spysat community, one could quickly identify the USA 224 satellite as being a so-called KeyHole satellite. Conclusion is that the photo that Donald Trump twittered, was taken from a distance of 382 km. As from Google Earth, the launchpad is 60 mtr in diameter, one could conclude that the resolution is at least 10 cm per pixel, or even better as it is a photo of a photo.

Using some basic optical diffraction limit equations from a bachelor physics class, reveals that the Keyhole satellites have an aperture of at least 2.4 mtr, which is of course no surprise as this is also the Hubble Space Telescope aperture. In 2012, the US Spy Agency NRO, that operates the KeyHole satellites, already passively hinted that this was (at least) their aperture diameter, as they offered NASA an unused telescope to be used for its future WFIRST infrared telescope. Another revealing item is the image quality of the picture, clearly the NRO has some clever algorithms, and maybe even adaptive optics on-board, to counter the effects of turbulence on sunlight propagation through the atmosphere. Below the resolution of 50 cm from Low-Earth Orbit this becomes a cumbersome subject.

So back to the politics. Why on Earth would Donald Trump show off this incredible capability? As president, he has the right to declassify such information, but nonetheless, this will not stop Iran from trying to reach Orbit with an Earth Obervation satellite (and of course at the same time obtaining a ballistic missile capability). As Trump basically always lies, one starts to suspect that the opposite has happened, i.e., the US (or their local ally Israel) has destroyed the Safir Launcher.

Internal to the US, to me, revealing this picture is clearly a middle finger to the US Intelligence Community who he believes is behind a lot of attacks since he was a presidential candidate. 

In any case, IMHO it shows that Donald Trump is category 5 ...... (please fill in the blanks) and should be impeached ASAP.

PS: more info on the analysis of the photo via the twitter thread from Cees Bassa and the blog by Marco Langbroek