On December 5, 2000, the National Reconnaissance Office’s MLV-11 launch placed a secret data-relay spacecraft into earth orbit. The launch was nicknamed “Great Bear” in honor of a former CIA/NRO engineer named Dan Potter. The “Great Bear” logo was designed by a thirteen-year-old girl named Samantha Wingo of Stone Middle School in Centreville, Virginia, whose drawing won a National Reconnaissance Office contest in honor of Potter, an active volunteer in the local school system. According to a statement, “The Ursa Major constellation, the Great Bear, was selected as the theme for the design because it complemented Cub Run’s mascot, the bear cub, and symbolized Dan’s love and support for the students and the [NRO’s] Partners in Education Program.”
The USA-155 payload is the second spacecraft in the third-generation Satellite Data System, also known as QUASAR, which relay real-time imaging, targeting, and other information from low orbit reconnaissance satellites to military and intelligence controllers on the ground. Other SDS-3 payloads include USA-137 (CAPRICORN), USA-162 (AQUILA), USA-179 (NEMESIS), and USA-198 (SCORPIUS).