Classified, as in, a government doesn't share the basic parameters of the launch, its purpose, and so on.

I vaguely remember this cropping up in a previous question, but I can't easily find the numbers for this. Not much on Google, so it deserves a question. Any representative time frame would be good enough. For instance, "from 2000 to 2013 there were X launches and Y were classified".

  • $\begingroup$ With backyard observers being so good at characterizing orbits, this becomes sillier and sillier. Sure don't tell us what you are launching, but once you know it is NSA and it is an Molinya orbit, gee, I wonder what it could be in that case... $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Feb 7 '14 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @geoffc I was operating under the assumption that they don't even try to hide the launch schedule and orbital parameters, because it's like trying to hide an atomic explosion... everyone's going to know anyway. But that sort of nuance is a good reason to ask the question in this format. $\endgroup$
    – AlanSE
    Feb 7 '14 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ They used to hide the moment of launch. I.e. It launches today, but we won't tell you the planned moment or window. But as you noted, it is LITERALLY like hiding an nuclear bomb going off. What does 8 million lbs of thrust look like from a Shuttle sustained for 2.5 minutes count as, in MegaTons? :) (SRB's are huge thrust contributors). $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Feb 7 '14 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ @geoffc Actually, it's only 5 kT TNT. calc: link That is, I kid you not, par for the course if we're talking about North Korean tests. $\endgroup$
    – AlanSE
    Feb 7 '14 at 16:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't have time to put the numbers together, but the Space Launch report (spacelaunchreport.com) is a good place to start. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Feb 7 '14 at 19:08

This infographic should be a good representative of how many launches can be considered classified, so I'm reposting it here from the Collection of space exploration related infographics thread on our Space Exploration meta:

T. McCall, M. Orcutt: Space over Time / History of Space Launches

Infographic date: August 23, 2011

   enter image description here

Of the 7,000 spacecraft that have been launched into orbit or beyond, more than half were defense satellites used for such purposes as communication, ­navigation, and imaging. (The Soviet Union sent up a huge number, partly because its satellites tended to be much shorter-lived than those from the United States.) In the 1970s, private companies began increasingly adding to the mix, ­launching satellites for telecommunications and broadcasting.

This graphic groups payloads by the nationality of the owner. A satellite, a capsule of cosmonauts, or a deep-space probe would each count as one payload. The data, which run through July 2011, were drawn from hundreds of sources, including space agency documents, academic journals, and interviews. They were compiled by Jonathan ­McDowell, an ­astrophysicist at the Harvard-­Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and author of Jonathan’s Space Report, a newsletter that tracks launches.


Infographic collates data on space launches from 1959 through mid 2011 and was compiled by Jonathan ­McDowell, a Harvard-­Smithsonian Center ­astrophysicist, and it was designed by Mike Orcutt, a MIT Research Engineer and Tommy McCall, founder of Infographics.com, a data visualisation agency.

Why I think it's a good representative of how many space launches are classified? Because there's always going to be a debate over what constitutes a classified launch, so splitting these between military and nonmilitary government launches while including non-government launches in the numbers should provide a close enough overview, however we want to look at it. Some payloads might be only partially classified, but the point is, that with military launches, we simply don't know to what extent that is, while we can be fairly certain that with other government launches too many civilians are involved in projects to even be worth keeping any parts of them under wraps.

Please, feel welcome to adding your own favorite space exploration related infographics to our meta post where we're collecting them for easy reference. Thanks!


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