Thanks to an article over on Smithsonian.com website we get to check out how awesomely g33ky thee patches made for the NRO National Reconnaissance Office satellite, or as we all know of them as spy satellites company, launches are.
The launch number for NROL-66, which lifted off in February 2011, inspired the Route 66 reference. Some speculated that the bull is a reference to the devil, because of 66’s affinity with 666. The red bull could also be a nod to the type of rocket used for the launch, called a Minotaur. NROL-66 was not actually a spy satellite mission, but a classified device launched to demonstrate new technology.
The presumed payload for NROL-38, launched in June 2012, is a type of satellite that functions with two others, creating a constellation. If that is true, the three-headed dragons might represent that satellite trio, and the positions of their heads around the Earth could hint at their real-world locations.
Enthusiasts examining the patch for NROL-35 think the trident, fire and breeze through the character’s hair might represent the elements—water, fire and wind. “What that has to do with the actual payload, however, is anyone’s guess,” says space historian Robert Pearlman.
The tiger is circling the globe, just like the satellite launched on NROL-9 in May 1999. Why a tiger or the choice for a mission motto nobody knows.
The rocket on the patch for NROL-1 represents the Atlas rocket used in the August 2004 launch, and the geometric shape in the middle might represent the Pentagon or the Department of Defense. I don’t know about the hearts, Pearlman says.
This patch for NROL-10, launched in December 2000, is a mystery.
Some enthusiasts muse that the five beams shooting out of the winged warrior’s hand represent five pre-existing satellites in the Quasar communications system, since a Quasar satellite was the presumed payload of NROL-33 in May. The two wolves facing west and one facing east could indicate three new positions in this system. Finally, the setting sun may symbolize that this will be the final Quasar launch.
This is the NROL-11 patch design that amateur satellite trackers cracked in 2000. Its design inadvertently revealed the mission and location of its payload
The bird on this patch for NROL-49 could be an eagle to represent the US, and the flames might stand for the fireball produced by the Delta IV Heavy rocket used for the January 2011 launch. The feathered form could also be a phoenix—there is speculation that this satellite took the place of another that was discontinued. The Latin motto reads: “Better the devil you know.”
Little is known about the patch for NROL-16, launched in April 2005. The pelican could refer to a location where those birds live, and the gorilla could be America asserting its dominance.
Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks broke shortly after the release of the patch for NROL-39, leading many to speculate that the octopus represented the tentacles of the government reaching out to control the world. After using the Freedom of Information Act, however, a journalist found a more mundane explanation: the octopus represents a failed instrument (nicknamed an octopus) that the team had to contend with while preparing the satellite for its December 2013 launch.
To learn more about them, and the NRO, be sure to ready their full article