Tracking UFOs by Satellite
By Simon Harvey-Wilson


For most of the cold war the superpowers' ground and satellite early warning systems would have needed to be able to track UFOs in order to distinguish them from nuclear missiles.  It would have been in neither side's interests to start World War III because for example NATO mistook a flight of five UFOs flying westwards from Russia for the first salvo of a nuclear strike against the West.

Detailed information on these early warning systems remains classified despite the end of the cold war.  This may be one reason why Western nations have been reluctant to acknowledge the reality of UFOs.  If they did admit their existence, the scientific community and those who had swallowed the 'They don't exist' line might demand to see the radar evidence.  But how could the Pentagon provide such proof and still keep the extraordinary capabilities of such surveillance infrastructure secret?  Yet without providing such evidence their claims would be no more convincing than those of the UFO community who likewise cannot produce any radar tapes.  The worldwide amateur UFO research community probably does not own a single radar set, air traffic control computer, jet fighter, or satellite between them.  All such hardware is in the hands of governments who so far have refused to use them to settle the UFO question.

I believe that Western governments would rather that the public knew as little as possible about their tracking systems, firstly for national security reasons and secondly because, once the public knew how extensive and sophisticated they were, they would realize that they were almost certainly capable of proving whether UFOs exist or not within little more than twenty-four hours.  Instead we are being asked to believe that such governments have apparently discovered nothing conclusive in this field for fifty years.

Where are these early warning systems, what can they do and where does information about them come from?  The first thing to point out is that all the information in this article comes from open sources.  Anyone can look it up in the library or on the Internet, provided you know where to look.  Writers and scholars who specialize in this subject call it 'Strategic Studies'.  My first source is a book called An Illustrated Guide To Space Warfare by David Hobbs, who was a researcher at Aberdeen University's Centre for Defense Studies.  Three other sources are The Ties That Bind: Intelligence Cooperation Between the UKUSA Countries by Jeffrey T. Richelson & Desmond Ball; Pine Gap by Des Ball; and A Base For Debate: The US Satellite Station at Nurrungar also by Des Ball.  Professor Desmond Ball has been the head of the Strategic and Defense Studies Centre at the Australian National University, and Dr Richelson has been a consultant and Senior Fellow at the National Security Archive in the USA.  I assume therefore that they know what they are talking about.  It should also be emphasized that none of these books mentions UFOs.

But why, you might ask, haven't these writers had their knuckles rapped for releasing classified information?  As far as I can gather the answer is because all the information they discuss is derived from open sources and is either out of date or sufficiently vague so as not to be of any threat to national security.  Nevertheless, out of date information is still relevant to the UFO debate.  If it can be shown that the world's superpowers had the equipment to track and therefore research UFOs thirty or more years ago, then it is most unlikely that today's equipment is any less capable, which suggests that they have been concealing their knowledge of the UFO phenomenon for all that time.

How would you track UFOs if you had an almost unlimited budget?  We know that some UFOs can be picked up by radar.  There are numerous reports available which attest to that.  Most civilian airport radars have a limited range and it is not the job of civilian air traffic controllers to keep a look out for UFOs.  Thankfully they devote their time to stopping passenger jets from crashing into each other, and most of us would prefer that they kept doing precisely that.  However military radar plays a different role.  In theory any nation's air force is supposed to be interested in identifying everything that flies into its air space in case it turns out to be hostile.  Despite government protestations to the contrary, this would definitely include UFOs.

BALLISTIC MISSILE EARLY WARNING SYSTEM.   The United States BMEWS system is vast, complex, and has a degree of redundancy built into it so that, if one part fails or is damaged, another part can take over.  Let us deal with the ground-based systems first. Nuclear weapons can be fired from submarines, from underground silos, from the air, and perhaps even from space.  To protect the North American continent, the USA and Canada cooperate in maintaining a huge radar shield over their combined land mass which can detect incoming missiles or craft from any direction.  Because land-based missiles from the old USSR would have probably come by the shortest route, which is over the North Pole, this early warning system, now called the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), is especially strong in that direction.  The NORAD operations centre is inside Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs in the Rocky Mountains.  NORAD is answerable both to the Canadian Prime Minister and the US President.  (More information about NORAD can be found on the Internet at:  To complete the radar shield there are also huge radar beams facing West, South and East from the North American coast, so that nothing that is detectable by radar can fly into Canada or the USA from any direction without tripping this system. This means that any radar-detectable UFO that is seen by the public anywhere within Canada or the USA must fall into one of these four categories.

     It must have been detected by the radar system as it flew past the coastline, or in from space, or
     It must have somehow got through the system undetected by using stealth, inter-dimensional travel or something of that nature, or
     It must have come from an underground or underwater alien base located within Canada or the USA, or
     It must be a craft owned by either the US or Canadian government or a member of the public such as a well financed inventor.

This may be one reason why Western air forces these days do not seem very interested in UFO reports from the public.  They probably already have all the details they need on a tracking computer somewhere.

The US military also has its own missile tracking system separate from its NORAD cooperation with Canada.  This system extends into space and around the planet.  The US Air Force Space Command runs something called SPACETRACK which provides data on satellites and missiles from its network of sensors around the world, including NASA's tracking systems.  SPACETRACK also gets information from the US Navy Space Surveillance System (NAVSPASUR) which operates a line of radar stations running from Georgia to California that transmit a fan-shaped radar beam into space to a height of about fourteen thousand kilometers.  This system can detect and calculate the orbital characteristics of any satellite or other object breaking the beam. (Hobbs, p.76)

SPACETRACK is also linked to something called the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System (GEODSS) which consists of a world-wide network of 100 centimeter telescopes linked to low-light-level television cameras which are powerful enough to provide real-time pictures of an object as small as a football in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the ground.  By now these cameras may be even more sensitive and include infra-red sensors.  I assume that this means that, if a UFO or mother-ship is detected by radar somewhere in orbit around the planet, one of the GEODSS telescopes somewhere on the planet can be asked to film it within minutes.  There are GEODSS telescopes in New Mexico, South Korea, Hawaii, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, Portugal (Hobbs, p.80) and probably several other places. This would suggest that someone within the US military-intelligence community by now has a whole video library of state-of-the-art UFO footage.

To show how coordinated the US military's early warning systems are, it is interesting to read a 19th August 1998 press release from the US Air Force News Service which detailed the retirement of General Howell M. Estes III after thirty-three years in the US Air Force.  Before his retirement General Estes simultaneously held three positions.  He was the commander in chief of NORAD (CINCNORAD) which meant that he "was responsible for the air sovereignty of the United States and Canada, as well as providing tactical warning and attack assessment."  He was also the commander in chief of US Space Command (USCINCSPACE) which meant that "he commanded the unified command responsible for directing space control and support operations."  And finally, he was commander of US Air Force Space Command (COMAFSPC).  In that job "he directed satellite control, warning, space launch and ballistic missile operations through a worldwide network of support facilities and bases."  General Estes it seems had a very responsible position, but the press release neglected to say whether tracking UFOs was also a part of his job brief.  His replacement is General Richard B. Myers.

The US early warning system is not limited to the North American continent.  They have installations on friendly territory around the planet, occasionally in places one has never heard of.  Some of them have remarkable capabilities, for example the Cobra Dane radar system, located on the Aleutian Islands near Alaska, "is sensitive enough to detect a grapefruit-sized metallic object at a distance in excess of 2,200 miles [3,500km].  In its tracking mode it can simultaneously handle up to 200 objects at ranges of up to about 1,250 miles [2,000km]." (Hobbs, p.76)  I wonder how many UFOs they have tracked over the last twenty-five years and who got to look at the radar tapes.  There is little point in having such marvelous technology if an intelligence analyst somewhere does not get to see the data it produces.

What evidence is there that such US radar systems are actually used to track UFOs?  In an article called 'The Roswell Incident: Fragments of Evidence' by Linda Moulton Howe she quotes an anonymous informant's recollections of what his grandfather, who claimed to have been on the Roswell crash retrieval team in 1947, had told him about the military's concern about UFOs entering US airspace.  The grandfather claimed they had "recommended to the President that a Space Program be set into motion and that a system of satellites be placed into orbit by 1957, and this satellite system be patched into the DEW Line system (Distant Early Warning radar stations at 70th parallel across North America) which later became NORAD (North America Radar Defense).  Granddad stated that it was his opinion that NORAD was formed not only to track possible ICBMs from hostile nations, but as an established detection system for UFO craft."  Although this claim does not constitute concrete evidence, it would be very puzzling, if not irresponsible, if the US military was not doing their best to track UFOs.  After all, it's not as if they are short of (taxpayers') money.

Further evidence that NORAD may be involved in tracking UFOs is to be found in an article called The 'Colorado Connection' by Graham Conway in Flying Saucer Review.  Conway gives several examples of Canadian residents who had rung their local air force base to report seeing a UFO, only to find themselves patched through to someone in NORAD, Colorado who took the details.

SATELLITE SYSTEMS.   So far we have only discussed ground-based tracking systems which are limited by their inability to see beyond the horizon, although over-the-horizon radar can see further.  However nothing compares to the view from space.  In my opinion using satellites to detect and/or track UFOs would be the most cost-effective method because such systems are already paid for, are already there watching out for nuclear missiles, and are already classified.  Any extra work they did would go unnoticed.  But their most important advantage is that satellites can see a huge area of the planet at one time.

Most surveillance, communication and weather satellites are 'parked' in what is called geosynchronous or geostationary orbit.  This means that the speed at which they naturally orbit the planet matches exactly the speed at which the planet rotates.  That means that, when seen through a telescope from the ground, the satellite appears to be stationary.  This illusion occurs because the ground that the viewer is standing on is actually moving at the same speed as the satellite.  Therefore, if you want your surveillance satellite to monitor a particular area of the planet you just park it in a geostationary orbit above your target area, and it effectively just sits there looking down.  One of the disadvantages of this system is that everyone else who can afford it is doing the same thing.  The geostationary orbit above the equator is by now so crowded with satellites that they will soon have to install parking meters up there.  Another disadvantage is that geostationary orbit is about 36,000 kilometers above the ground which means that getting a clear picture isn't easy.  Add that to the fact that the ground beneath the satellite may be covered by clouds, and spends half the day in darkness as the planet revolves, and one begins to see why the spy satellite business is so expensive.

The field of view or 'footprint' of a geostationary surveillance satellite covers an enormous area of the planet.  For example a satellite parked over the equator near Singapore would be able to see a circle beneath it that extended from above the Arctic circle in the north to below the Antarctic circle in the south and from a line roughly joining Cairo to Moscow to the west to well past New Zealand to the east.  This is a vast area that includes most of Russia, the whole of Asia, the Indian Ocean and Australia.  With this kind of coverage one only needs to maintain three such satellites evenly spaced around the equator to be able to view the entire planet except the North and South poles.  To function effectively, a surveillance satellite must transmit the data it has recorded to a receiving station on the ground that is in line of sight beneath it, because electromagnetic radiation will only go in straight lines.  That is why the receiving stations for any geostationary satellites that are looking at Russia, Iraq, Pakistan, India or China must be on the same side of the planet as those countries.  And from a geopolitical perspective, the most suitable place to locate such satellite bases is in Australia.

PINE GAP.   There are two US satellite bases in Australia that are known to the public: the first is called Pine Gap and is located near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, while the second, called Nurrungar, is in South Australia, five hundred kilometers north-west of Adelaide.  There exist several conspiracy theories about these bases, especially Pine Gap, that are beyond the scope of this article.  However it should be pointed out that UFO researchers who publish conspiracy theories about these bases who have not read the previously mentioned well documented books about them are not doing very much for their credibility.  Admittedly these books do not mention UFOs, but they are still important starting points for serious research.

According to Professor Ball the satellites that report down to Pine Gap are Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) ones.  SIGINT can be broken up into Communications Intelligence (COMINT), "the interception of foreign communications transmitted by radio or other electromagnetic means", and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) which "consists of information derived from monitoring foreign non-communications electromagnetic radiation". ELINT can further be broken up into Telemetry Intelligence (TELINT) which is "concerned with monitoring of foreign telemetry signals such as those produced in missile tests" and Radar Intelligence (RADINT) "which involves the monitoring of foreign radar emissions." (Ball, 1988, p.2) SIGINT satellites also listen to foreign satellite communications.  More details of what all this means are in Ball's book Pine Gap.  Processing and analysis of the huge volume of information produced by these satellites are handled by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Because its SIGINT satellites operate as giant vacuum cleaners in the sky, sucking up electromagnetic data, rather than as tracking satellites, it would seem unlikely that Pine Gap has anything to do with tracking UFOs.  This does not preclude the possibility that Pine Gap may have some sort of black UFO related mission(s) hidden behind the classified missions already discussed.

Professor Ball is a little vague as to whether Pine Gap also has a Photographic Intelligence (PHOTINT) mission.  However an article in The West Australian newspaper (Saturday, 7th September 1996) claimed that Pine Gap "is reportedly one of the earth stations for orbiting US photographic reconnaissance and electronic intelligence satellites."  So, do any Pine Gap satellites take photos of UFOs?  There is a significant technical difference between taking satellite photographs of fixed ground locations and taking them of small fast moving aerial objects like UFOs.  If the Pine Gap satellites do have PHOTINT capability they could probably only take photographs of UFOs if they received appropriate real-time tracking information about their location, unless they had actually landed on the ground.  As far as we know, providing tracking information is not what Pine Gap does, but it is what Nurrungar does.  (A Pine Gap Internet site can be found at

NURRUNGAR.   The United States satellite station at Nurrungar is a ground station for the US Defence Support Program (DSP) whose geostationary satellites provide the US Air Force Space Command with its first warning of the launch of any nuclear missiles in the event of nuclear war.  During the Gulf war they were also used to detect the launching of Iraqi Scud missiles.  In other words DSP satellites are designed to detect and track flying objects.  To do this they are equipped with 3.63 meter Schmidt infrared telescopes, visible light and ultraviolet sensors, and nuclear detonation (NUDET) detection sensors.  The infrared detectors are designed to sense the radiation emitted by nuclear missile booster rockets after they have been launched.

The ultraviolet sensors are designed to detect fluorescing gases around the booster rockets or missile nose cones during their flight.  Visible light television cameras on the satellites are also able to transmit pictures to the ground station when necessary.  UFO researchers will be interested to note that Professor Ball quotes Philip Klass as an expert on the equipment carried on these satellites. (Ball, 1987, p.22)  The NUDET sensors can detect certain nuclear particles, gamma-rays and x-rays from nuclear explosions.  (The Joint Defense Facility Nurrungar home-page can be found at

How clearly a satellite that is thirty-six thousand kilometers away can see what is happening down near the ground is highly classified, but one has to assume that DSP satellites, and any more recent versions, have the capability to see things that are as small and fast moving as nuclear missiles, otherwise they would be ineffective.  It seems therefore that these satellites would be ideal for tracking UFOs.  They wouldn't even need to be told to do it, they would track them automatically because of UFOs' resemblance to various missiles.  We know that UFOs sometimes radiate very brightly.  It is suspected that this is caused by plasma (fluorescing atmospheric gases) surrounding the craft.  We also know that UFOs often interfere with radios and televisions which suggests that they do emit some sort of radiation.  Given all the different electromagnetic frequencies that DSP satellites can detect, it would probably be safe to assume that they are able to detect and track at least some UFOs and have been doing so for some time. The tracking and film recordings of these craft from such satellites would surely by now have revealed some interesting intelligence.  For example, by correlating this tracking data with geographical locations one could perhaps get a better idea of what UFOs are actually doing.  A single sighting from a witness on the ground may not tell us very much, but the cumulative data from say ten years of satellite tracking in Australia or anywhere else, including the large proportion of the planet that is covered in water, would present a very different statistical picture.

Some questions to be asked would be, are there more sightings near population centers, do they follow power lines, are they following some sort of grid pattern, do they revisit the same locations at fixed intervals, are they looking at known mineral deposits, or magnetic anomalies, or military bases, or is there no discernible pattern in the sightings?  As more data is accumulated, the more revealing and sophisticated such an analysis could become.  Different radar signatures for different types of craft could be gathered as well as technical data on acceleration and speed characteristics.

Such tracking data might help us discover whether some UFOs have underground or underwater bases.  Unfortunately we must assume that whoever or whatever is operating UFOs isn't stupid.  They may have very capable stealth or deception techniques that enable UFOs to pop in and out of view all over the place in a manner that completely befuddles any unfortunate intelligence analyst trying to find a pattern in the sightings.

An example of evasive action taken by aliens can be found in an article called 'Another Astonishing South American Report' by Flying Saucer Review consultant Jane Guma.  It describes the case of Orlando Jorge Ferraudi who in August 1965 was taken, fully conscious, into a UFO while fishing by a river on the coast of Brazil.  The UFO then set off under water.  Using telepathy, an alien explained that this was to avoid radar. After a while they emerged from the sea and flew at a low altitude to the coast of Uruguay, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Africa from where they flew upwards into space.  The alien supposedly explained that "We must take these precautions so that we can thus avoid being regarded as invaders or conquerors.  We want your people to get used to us slowly, to see us just as like anybody else, because we are not strangers in this part of the Universe." (Guma, p.7)  It does however seem strange that the aliens would take such elaborate measures to avoid detection while explaining them to a human so that they eventually get published in a UFO magazine for everyone to read.

Being able to detect and track UFOs in real time would also enable the military to see at once if any of them had crashed.  The nearest rapid-deployment recovery team could then be alerted to ensure that any live aliens were apprehended, the UFO debris cleared up, and an appropriate cover story concocted before the media and local authorities got in on the act.  By ensuring fast and efficient crash retrieval such a tracking system would contribute to depriving the public of irrefutable evidence of the reality of UFOs, and facilitate the reverse engineering of recovered debris before anyone else got their hands on it.

BLACK PROJECTS.   How likely is it that a satellite station such as Nurrungar is tracking UFOs in addition to its other classified duties?  In an article to advertise his book Above Black: Project Preserve Destiny Insider Account of Alien Contact and Government Cover-Up, retired Staff Sergeant Dan Sherman, who claims to have worked for the National Security Agency as an Intuitive Communicator with aliens, explains how US government extraterrestrial programs are hidden.  He claims that behind the usual categories of Secret and Top Secret exist what are called 'Unacknowledged Special Access Programs' (USAPs) otherwise known as 'black' programs.  These tightly compartmentalized programs operate on a need-to-know basis.  Behind them exist the most highly classified programs which are the extraterrestrial related ones.  This ensures that every alien project is carefully camouflaged behind another black project.

This classification system makes good sense and could easily operate at Pine Gap or Nurrungar.  Even those personnel with above Top Secret clearances might not know that a few of their colleagues spend some of their time accessing a highly restricted part of the computer system that receives and analyses UFO tracking data.  It is a common requirement in such work environments to activate a password controlled screen-saver on your computer terminal every time you get up from your desk.

It might be claimed that, quite apart from stealth technology to prevent satellites from tracking them, UFOs might not emit sufficient electromagnetic radiation to be detected by DSP satellites.  However in a detailed technical article in the MUFON UFO Journal called 'Do Our Satellites See UFOs', Ronald S. Regehr addresses this question and concludes that the electromagnetic intensity of at least some UFOs "is certainly detectable by today's technology satellites, thus effectively proving that at last one of our spy satellites could detect UFOs."  (Regher, p.18)

While this article has only discussed information about US radar and satellite systems that has almost certainly been superseded by more advanced technology, it must be remembered that an increasing number of other countries are launching sophisticated satellites that may be able to track UFOs as part of their surveillance missions.  Such countries include Great Britain, France, Japan and China, with several others in the pipeline.  This fact alone may provide some pressure on the United States to come clean about the UFO phenomenon rather than suffer the possible embarrassment of another country releasing such information before they do. 

A Pine Gap Internet site can be found at:
Ball, Desmond.  (1987)  A Base For Debate: The US Satellite Station at Nurrungar.
Ball, Desmond.  (1988)  Pine Gap: Australia and the US Geostationary Signals Intelligence Satellite Program.
Conway, Graham.  (1998, Autumn)  The 'Colorado Connection'.  Flying Saucer Review, Volume 43/3, pp.20-21.
Guma, Jane.  (1997, Winter)  Another astonishing South American report.  Flying Saucer Review, Volume 42/4, pp.6-10.
Hobbs, David.  (no date)  An Illustrated Guide To Space Warfare.
Howe, Linda Moulton  (1997, August-September)  The Roswell Incident: Fragments of evidence.  Nexus  Vol.4, No.5, pp.73-77.
How the NSA communicates with grey aliens.  (1998, Feb-March)  Nexus,  Vol.5, No.2, p.61.
Pine Gap references:
Regehr, Ronald S.  (1994, April)  Do our satellites see UFOs?  MUFON UFO Journal, No.312, pp.6-9.
Richelson, Jeffrey T. & Desmond Ball.  (1990)  The Ties That Bind: Intelligence Cooperation Between the UKUSA Countries.
Sherman, Dan.  (1997)  Above Black: Project Preserve Destiny Insider Account of Alien Contact and Government Cover-Up.
The Joint Defence Facility Nurrungar home-page:
US Air Force News Service. (1998, August 19)
Attachment Converted: "c:\eudora\attach\Tracking UFOs by Satellite.txt"