WASHINGTON — A secret military satellite launched by a space shuttle last January was placed in a highly unusual orbit not common to spy satellites, raising questions Friday about the craft's mission or whether it went into the wrong orbit.
The questions arose when the Air Force released a report describing the satellite's initial path. The Pentagon is required to describe the initial orbits of its satellites to the United Nations under international treaty.
Most U.S. spy satellites are launched into fairly low, circular orbits that cross the polar regions or into orbits 22,300 miles over the Equator, where the satellite matches the Earth's rotation and actually hangs over one region of the planet.
However, the satellite carried into space Jan. 24 on the shuttle Discovery was placed initially in an elliptical orbit that carries it at its high point to an altitude of 21,495 miles and at its low point to only 211 miles.