NPR's news item and audio podcast New Chinese Space Plane Landed At Mysterious Air Base, Evidence Suggests draws heavily from information and quotes from noted astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Jonathan McDowell who frequently tweets science and object tracking and it seems has also answered a question here.
The article notes:
They didn't give a launch time. They didn't give any more details," McDowell says. The U.S. military picked up the new spacecraft on its tracking network, and McDowell and others quickly plotted its orbit. When they did so, they found that China's new craft passed over a secretive military facility: an area called Lop Nur where China once tested its nuclear weapons.
Question: Does McDowell have some special security clearance in order to see what "The U.S. military picked up the new spacecraft on its tracking network" or does the US military put this information out there in a semi-public way that doesn't require a security clearance in order to see it. Or did McDowell use sources other than military, cf. How are military satellites with (apparently) classified TLEs still showing up on sat map websites? If the source is public, what is it?
I don't think my question is inappropriate, because it is about a public figure's public statements in one of their fields of specialty. McDowell is also referenced in many other posts here in similar capacity, just for example:
- When is/will be the symposium to revisit the Karman line and consider the "McDowell line"?
- Have spacecraft ever dipped below the Karman line and then safely continued spaceflight?
- Did the Soviet Union put an unmanned satellite in "very low orbit"above the Kármán line which used aerodynamic attitude control?
- Did Zuma really fail? Did it complete at least one orbit?
- this answer to When will SpaceX Falcon Heavy Tesla cross Mars orbit?
- this answer to How many rockets have been launched into space? (roughly, of course)
- this answer to Why is FAI considering lowering the Karman Line to 80km?