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Amateurs identify U.S. spy satellite behind President Trump’s tweet

Amateur satellite trackers say they believe an image tweeted by President Trump on Friday came from one of America’s most advanced spy satellites.

The image almost certainly came from a satellite known as USA 224, according to Marco Langbroek, a satellite-tracker based in the Netherlands. The satellite was launched by the National Reconnaissance Office in 2011. Almost everything about it remains highly classified, but Langbroek says that based on its size and orbit, most observers believe USA 224 is one of America’s multibillion-dollar KH-11 reconnaissance satellites.

“It’s basically a very large telescope, not unlike the Hubble Space Telescope,” Langbroek says. “But instead of looking up to the stars, it looks down to the earth’s surface and makes very detailed images.”

The image tweeted by Trump on Friday, showing the aftermath of an accident at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center, was so detailed that some experts doubted whether it really could have come from a satellite high above the planet. 

Iran had been preparing to launch a rocket known as the Safir with a small satellite aboard, but experts believe it exploded during fueling. The image showed crisp writing painted on the edge of the launch pad, the scorched truck that had been used to move the rocket, and other details.

Trump seemed to be using the sensitive reconnaissance image to troll the Iranians. “The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” the President tweeted. “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”

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