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If there are only a few "enemy" radars at known locations that can detect a satellite in LEO, I'd assume there are some radar stealth methods using a spacecraft carefully shaped and oriented such that it does not reflect any radar beam back to any enemy receiver. Is that plausible?

And what about the optical, is it possible to make an average sized satellite, without Solar panels, optically invisible from the ground?

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    $\begingroup$ Radar is not the only tracking method. IR is very hard to hide against the cold background of deep space. $\endgroup$ – jkavalik Apr 29 '17 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @jkavalik Also the narrow IR band that reaches the ground? $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Apr 30 '17 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ black-body radiation has continuous spectrum so I would say yes. You could try to move all radiators to the side facing away from Earth and cool the visible parts, but that would be quite hard, would require quite a lot of energy, could be spotted quickly by any other satelite at similar or higher orbit and would show when the satelite transits over Sun or Moon (or when it eclipses any other body, but they tend to be quite small targets compared to these two) $\endgroup$ – jkavalik Apr 30 '17 at 6:03
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There are basically 3 means of tracking satellites:

  1. Radar- Can hide from this, see anything about stealth aircraft out there (Same principals)
  2. Visible- To hide from visible, it would basically be necessary to absorb any light for anything that might be pointed to the ground. This would heat the satellite up, and might make it less useful. In theory one could dissipate the heat upward, but this would make it easy to spot by IR searching satellites.
  3. Infrared- The ideal way of achieving this is to make it as cool as possible. This is challenging, to say the least, but tends to work best by reflecting most light.

As a result, it is very difficult to hide from both Visible and IR.

The truth is, it's very difficult to hide a satellite. But to use any of these detection methods, it helps to have at least a rough idea of where it is. The best thing you can do to hide a satellite is to not let it be known where it is, and make it as stealthy as you can.

This was done previously with the Misty satellites. Of course, these were identified by amateurs eventually, but it did take some time.

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The answer to your question is classified. What is almost certain is that the USA launched stealth satellite in low Earth Orbit, so presumably it works well enough. These satellites were called MISTY by the amateur observers, and were hard to track.

The Federation of American Scientists has a whole sourcebook dedicated to the issue of stealth in space.

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You could make the argument that the X-37B is a stealth satellite, although technically a drone, and it spent some 675 days in space recently.

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  • $\begingroup$ OK, but how stealthy is it? $\endgroup$ – Nathan Tuggy May 1 '17 at 5:57
  • $\begingroup$ Never been detected yet $\endgroup$ – Prof May 1 '17 at 7:32
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have some evidence of that? As far as I can tell, the location and mass of the X-37B flights has never been difficult to establish (and thus they are not stealthy); what is not known is exactly what is inside them within the detectable mass range. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Tuggy May 1 '17 at 7:34
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    $\begingroup$ @NathanTuggy It appears that I was wrong, the information I had was a bit older from 2013. This link proves that It can be tracked and thus is no longer subject to being classed as stealth. skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/… $\endgroup$ – Prof May 1 '17 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Prof sounds like fodder for a new and interesting question! $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 3 '17 at 13:54

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