Zircon (satellite)


Zircon (satellite)

Zircon was the codename for a British signals intelligence satellite, intended to be launched in 1988, before being cancelled.

During the Cold War, Britain's GCHQ was heavily reliant on America's National Security Agency (NSA) for communications interception from space. Concern heightened at the time of the Falklands War. GCHQ requested access to American Signals Intelligence satellites to assist in monitoring Argentine Communications, but reportedly struggled with the National Security Agency to gain appropriate tasking time, despite the special relationship between the two countries. The United States satellites were engaged in monitoring SIGINT traffic elsewhere in South America related to El Salvador. [http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/alpha/zircon.htm] GCHQ therefore decided to produce a UK-designed-and-built signals intelligence satellite, to be called Zircon, a code-name derived from Zirconium Silicate, a diamond substitute. [http://mineral.galleries.com/minerals/silicate/zircon/zircon.htm] Its function was to intercept radio and other signals from the USSR, Europe and other areas. The satellite was to be launched on a NASA Space Shuttle under the guise of Skynet IV and would have led to the UK's first man in space.

Zircon was cancelled by Chancellor Nigel Lawson on grounds of its cost in 1987. However, Duncan Campbell, an investigative journalist working for "New Statesman" magazine, published an article on Zircon. He discovered that the Zircon project had been hidden from Parliament, and estimated it was costing the government £100 million a year. He went on to investigate Zircon in a BBC programme called "Secret Society" in 1986. Special Branch raids on the BBC and Campbell's home followed, and an injunction was released preventing the transmission of the programme. Despite this, the "New Statesman" published Campbell's article in January 1987. The television programme was delayed, and transmitted several years later.

ee also

*Zircon affair


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