Author Topic: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite  (Read 154449 times)

Offline Jim

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #560 on: 02/14/2017 12:38 PM »
Figure 5.2-1 must be really old.  It has an umbilical on the Orbiter near the crew cabin. 

Offline russianhalo117

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #561 on: 02/14/2017 03:51 PM »
Well the KH fleet was one of the primary reasons of West Coast Shuttle amongst other reasons. My father was a photochemist and systems engineer in the USAF and later at other agencies and was away from the family 221 days of the year working on spy cameras and film return canisters for both planes and spacecraft until the day they switched to digital.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #562 on: 02/14/2017 04:10 PM »
Considering the sheer complexity of the KH-9 film system it would have been one hell of a headache to work on it while in-orbit.

Yeah. I have a hard time understanding how they would have threaded the film through the camera in orbit. Even if they left a bit of film in the camera sticking out either end, it would have had to be spliced to a leader coming out of the last reentry vehicle, and also spliced onto the new film supply. Then it would have to be pulled through the camera. All that in zero-g, with no way for a human to visibly monitor it.

Add to that replacing the consumables. Not only the fuel supply, but they used pressurized nitrogen in the film path. Which makes me wonder how they would then seal up the system and repressurize it after bringing up the new film and SRVs. It would have been a very complex on-orbit resupply job.

Online Kansan52

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #563 on: 02/14/2017 04:36 PM »
Thank you. Your articles and explanations always reveal so well that I feel 'smarter' (at least better informed) after each read!

Offline Archibald

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #564 on: 02/14/2017 05:09 PM »
Quote
In fact, the length of the shuttle’s payload bay had been dictated by the requirement to carry the HEXAGON

There had been a lot of discussion about this precise point over the last decade. Is this the final story ? Or is there some unknown NRO (or military) satellite still classified that mandated, by itself, the shuttle payload bay length ?
« Last Edit: 02/14/2017 05:09 PM by Archibald »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #565 on: 02/14/2017 05:19 PM »
Quote
In fact, the length of the shuttle’s payload bay had been dictated by the requirement to carry the HEXAGON

There had been a lot of discussion about this precise point over the last decade. Is this the final story ? Or is there some unknown NRO (or military) satellite still classified that mandated, by itself, the shuttle payload bay length ?

Final story. I have at least one declassified document from (I think) 1975 that clearly states that the length was dictated by the HEXAGON. I'll have to dig it up, but it says something like "The HEXAGON can be carried in the shuttle bay because the payload bay length was established to carry it..."

Width is something different, but length was established by the H.

Online kevin-rf

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #566 on: 02/14/2017 07:15 PM »
Considering the sheer complexity of the KH-9 film system it would have been one hell of a headache to work on it while in-orbit.

Yeah. I have a hard time understanding how they would have threaded the film through the camera in orbit. Even if they left a bit of film in the camera sticking out either end, it would have had to be spliced to a leader coming out of the last reentry vehicle, and also spliced onto the new film supply. Then it would have to be pulled through the camera. All that in zero-g, with no way for a human to visibly monitor it.

Add to that replacing the consumables. Not only the fuel supply, but they used pressurized nitrogen in the film path. Which makes me wonder how they would then seal up the system and repressurize it after bringing up the new film and SRVs. It would have been a very complex on-orbit resupply job.

I think you hit upon the biggest problem. The entire film system was kept pressurized to control humidity and film outgassing.

If I recall from Pressel's excellent book, wasn't the film loaded backwards through the four film buckets onto the spool. Be interesting to try to thread all that backwards through four new film buckets and maintain pressurization. 
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Offline russianhalo117

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #567 on: 02/14/2017 08:47 PM »
Articles are now appearing that are based upon my ZEUS article. They link to my original article, but don't give me name credit for writing it:

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2825430/us-spooks-planned-to-turn-the-space-shuttle-into-a-huge-spy-ship-to-snoop-out-soviets-cold-war-nukes/

http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/research/a25133/zeus-space-shuttle-spy-plan/

file copyright infringement claims on them if possible.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #568 on: 02/14/2017 10:36 PM »
So to add a bit more to the story: by 1975 the NRO rejected putting the HEXAGON on the shuttle. From what I can tell, they did not rule out eventually launching the HEXAGON on the shuttle, but they decided upon no on-orbit servicing and no recovery and relaunch. They also rejected highly modifying the HEXAGON to take advantage of the shuttle's larger payload bay.

At this point the NRO initiated one or more studies under the designation Wide Area Surveillance Program, or WASP. WASP was a study to put optics inside the payload bay and fly a manned reconnaissance mission.

WASP eventually turned into ZEUS. ZEUS was a study of two camera systems, one by Perkin-Elmer and the other by Fairchild. The P-E design was not based on HEXAGON.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #569 on: 02/14/2017 11:02 PM »
So ZEUS was studied from around 1978-1979 (I'll try to get exact dates). According to a declassified interview with a former congressional staffer who was involved in NRO oversight, ZEUS was really Director of National Reconnaissance Office Hans Mark's pet project. But it would have required up to four shuttle missions per year. That would have been expensive. This person claims that it was possible to upgrade the KH-11 KENNEN to increase its bandwidth and that would solve the area search requirement--so ZEUS was not necessary.

There are some holes in this story, and I'd treat it all as tentative until I can get better info. One of the problems is that during the 1991 Gulf War there were complaints that the KENNEN coverage (by then it was named CRYSTAL) was "like looking at the battlefield through a soda straw." So clearly upgrades to KENNEN did not solve the area search requirement. I suspect that the upgrades increased the coverage a bit compared to the early KH-11s, but not enough to truly replace the HEXAGON's coverage.

Offline Archibald

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #570 on: 02/15/2017 08:55 AM »
Surely enough the lineage of Key Holes was long split between high-resolution (Gambit, Dorian) and broad mapping (Corona and Hexagon).
I always felt that the KH-11 more belonged to the high-resolution camp and thus that the KH-9 capability was never fully replaced. Looks like they regretted it in GW1.

Which begs an interesting question: was there a KH-9 successor project somewhere between 1971 and 1985 ?

Both Corona and Hexagon produced enormous volumes of photos. One can wonder if KH-11 -era digital memory storage could have handled such volume.
I wonder what is harder from a storage point of view: small number of very high resolution pictures OR a boatload of medium resolution pictures ?
« Last Edit: 02/15/2017 09:01 AM by Archibald »

Offline Hobbes-22

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #571 on: 02/15/2017 11:24 AM »
A large number of images is the more difficult case, mainly because it creates the question of which images are worth analyzing and which can be discarded.
The technical issues can be handled by throwing enough hardware at the problem.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #572 on: 02/15/2017 01:02 PM »
Both Corona and Hexagon produced enormous volumes of photos. One can wonder if KH-11 -era digital memory storage could have handled such volume.

A lot of KH-11 storage was photographic--they burned the images to film "chips" that I think were about six inches by 12 inches. Those things went into storage. I assume they also had a huge collection of magnetic tapes.


Offline gosnold

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #573 on: 02/15/2017 06:10 PM »
So ZEUS was studied from around 1978-1979 (I'll try to get exact dates). According to a declassified interview with a former congressional staffer who was involved in NRO oversight, ZEUS was really Director of National Reconnaissance Office Hans Mark's pet project. But it would have required up to four shuttle missions per year. That would have been expensive. This person claims that it was possible to upgrade the KH-11 KENNEN to increase its bandwidth and that would solve the area search requirement--so ZEUS was not necessary.

There are some holes in this story, and I'd treat it all as tentative until I can get better info. One of the problems is that during the 1991 Gulf War there were complaints that the KENNEN coverage (by then it was named CRYSTAL) was "like looking at the battlefield through a soda straw." So clearly upgrades to KENNEN did not solve the area search requirement. I suspect that the upgrades increased the coverage a bit compared to the early KH-11s, but not enough to truly replace the HEXAGON's coverage.

The fate of the wide-area search role is indeed quite a mystery. It's possible it was taken over by the KH-11 for strategic search: imaging all of the USSR every year (the KH-9 spec) could be doable even with a limited field of view. For instance, Worldview 4 has a 13km field of view but still manages to image 0.6 Mkm2 per day, so napkin math says it can image the 22 M km2 of the former USSR in 36 days. Of course in reality it's going to take longer. Taken the other way around, imaging 22M km2 in 1 year means only 4 000km2 need to be imaged per satellite pass on average. That sounds feasible even with a field of view a few km wide, by acquiring long, thin strips.

The same limited field of view may not have satisfied GW1 commanders who wanted to see the whole battlefield every day. So tactical wide area surveillance may not be feasible with the KH-11. That would explain the debates about 8X and other wide-area systems after the Gulf War.

Another theory is that the wide area search role was filled by the Lacrosse radar sats. The last Hexagon launch is in 1986, the first Lacrosse launch is in 1988. So the dates seem to fit. Since radar allows to see at night and through cloud, and can give wide swath and high resolution (but not at the same time), it would make sense that Lacrosse was intended for tactical wide-area search, to hunt for Soviet mobiles launchers for instance. Under that theory, Lacrosse is a strategic asset to be used for nuclear conflict and was very recent in 1991, so its imagery would not have been provided to GW1 commanders. It would have been reserved to the Strategic Air Command.
« Last Edit: 02/15/2017 06:11 PM by gosnold »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #574 on: 02/16/2017 02:16 AM »
The fate of the wide-area search role is indeed quite a mystery. It's possible it was taken over by the KH-11 for strategic search: imaging all of the USSR every year (the KH-9 spec) could be doable even with a limited field of view. For instance, Worldview 4 has a 13km field of view but still manages to image 0.6 Mkm2 per day, so napkin math says it can image the 22 M km2 of the former USSR in 36 days. Of course in reality it's going to take longer. Taken the other way around, imaging 22M km2 in 1 year means only 4 000km2 need to be imaged per satellite pass on average. That sounds feasible even with a field of view a few km wide, by acquiring long, thin strips.

The same limited field of view may not have satisfied GW1 commanders who wanted to see the whole battlefield every day. So tactical wide area surveillance may not be feasible with the KH-11. That would explain the debates about 8X and other wide-area systems after the Gulf War.

Another theory is that the wide area search role was filled by the Lacrosse radar sats. The last Hexagon launch is in 1986, the first Lacrosse launch is in 1988. So the dates seem to fit. Since radar allows to see at night and through cloud, and can give wide swath and high resolution (but not at the same time), it would make sense that Lacrosse was intended for tactical wide-area search, to hunt for Soviet mobiles launchers for instance. Under that theory, Lacrosse is a strategic asset to be used for nuclear conflict and was very recent in 1991, so its imagery would not have been provided to GW1 commanders. It would have been reserved to the Strategic Air Command.


I think you are onto something. But I think the answer may be a bit different. Maybe they redefined the requirement for search. So during the HEXAGON era the search requirement was to cover the entire Soviet landmass every X number of days at Y resolution. Maybe they came up with a different definition that did not require covering the entire landmass, but some percentage of certain targets every X number of days at Y resolution. And maybe that could have left big swaths of territory not covered regularly, but at a much lower regularity, because they expected that there was nothing in those areas.

What may have happened is that the US military got itself into Operation Desert Shield/Storm and concluded that this definition of search was just not useful to them. They needed near complete coverage of a large area in a very short period of time because they were looking for an army in a desert, and they weren't getting that coverage. It wasn't like the Soviet landmass requirement that was based upon mostly fixed targets, not moving tanks.

Offline Arch Admiral

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #575 on: 02/16/2017 07:24 AM »
Remember that much of the USSR was roadless tundra or desert where no military installation could be built without massive preliminary construction. These areas don't have to be checked very often.

Even in populated areas, Soviet roads were mostly dirt (or mud in spring and fall). Every military installation needed its own rail spur, and had to be located close to an existing Tsarist mainline railroad. The only major new railroad built during the Space Age was the Baikal-Amur Mainline which duplicated the Trans-Siberian Line at a safer distance from the Chinese border. This reality was recognized in the U-2 era where overflights were routed along known railroads.

Offline gosnold

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #576 on: 02/16/2017 07:09 PM »
Remember that much of the USSR was roadless tundra or desert where no military installation could be built without massive preliminary construction. These areas don't have to be checked very often.

That was actually taken into account into the specification for the Hexagon: if I recall correctly, it had to do yearly coverage of the whole USSR, and quarterly coverage of built-up areas close to the main communication axis.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #577 on: 02/23/2017 05:13 PM »
Remember that much of the USSR was roadless tundra or desert where no military installation could be built without massive preliminary construction. These areas don't have to be checked very often.

That was actually taken into account into the specification for the Hexagon: if I recall correctly, it had to do yearly coverage of the whole USSR, and quarterly coverage of built-up areas close to the main communication axis.

Forgot to respond to this last week.

I have a document somewhere from the mid-1960s that lists the coverage requirements for CORONA. I think they designated target areas by certain numbers, and then there was a requirement of coverage of those different numbers that varied. So higher priority targets got higher coverage. This was a direct outgrowth of the initial U-2 coverage strategy for the USSR. If I remember correctly, U-2 targeting had two basic parts. The first was to go immediately to the known high priority targets, like Baikonur. The second was to follow the rail lines, based upon the assumption that any ICBM sites would be located near railways. When the satellites were flying, the targeting lists had that same general approach--if there was a rail line, they had to photograph it more often than the vast areas of nothing in the Soviet Union.

But I suspect that this got more and more complex as the systems improved. Imaging targets were established by the Committee on Imagery Exploitation, or COMIREX. I have seen declassified meeting minutes from COMIREX into the 1970s. But I have not seen any basic publication or "standards manual" or anything like that from COMIREX. You'd think that they would have established some basic imagery requirements policies, not simply set up requirements for each new mission. And once the KH-11 KENNEN was flying and they were no longer film-limited, they would have revised the requirements a lot.

In fact, there's a lot of stuff about the operations of the satellites over this time (1960s into the 1980s) that we still don't know. A lot has been declassified, but nobody has really put it all together. I know a guy who had the job of turning the requirements into specific commands for the spacecraft for a little while. He said that it involved taking the requirements, then pulling out paper maps and figuring out grid coordinates, then figuring out the overhead path of the satellite and putting in pointing commands and camera commands (on/off) that was all entered into computers and then sent up to the satellites during their flights over a ground station. Lots of work.

Offline rguser

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #578 on: 02/26/2017 05:14 AM »
Remember that much of the USSR was roadless tundra or desert where no military installation could be built without massive preliminary construction. These areas don't have to be checked very often.

That was actually taken into account into the specification for the Hexagon: if I recall correctly, it had to do yearly coverage of the whole USSR, and quarterly coverage of built-up areas close to the main communication axis.

In fact, there's a lot of stuff about the operations of the satellites over this time (1960s into the 1980s) that we still don't know. A lot has been declassified, but nobody has really put it all together. I know a guy who had the job of turning the requirements into specific commands for the spacecraft for a little while. He said that it involved taking the requirements, then pulling out paper maps and figuring out grid coordinates, then figuring out the overhead path of the satellite and putting in pointing commands and camera commands (on/off) that was all entered into computers and then sent up to the satellites during their flights over a ground station. Lots of work.

Not only was determining the camera tasking commands a lot of work for many years but even the relatively simple task of allocating satellite up-link and down-link communication time for the various satellites on orbit was very manually intensive and complex.  During a tour of the Blue Cube in Sunnyvale, that I was part of, our tour group was shown an example of how satellite controllers used strips of paper with different colors representing the different satellites and the length of each strip being the amount of time allocated for communicating with each satellite while they were in range of an RTS and the satellite dishes of the Blue Cube.  We were not told when they converted to having computers determine the allocations but I got the feeling that they had to endure using the colored paper strips for at least a couple of decades.  Controllers were happy when computers were used to allocate the length of time for communicating with each satellite while in range.

Offline Targeteer

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Re: KH-9 HEXAGON Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #579 on: 03/17/2017 05:00 AM »
From the NRO Facebook page.  Cool pic.

March 16, 1978 – The National Reconnaissance Office launched Hexagon 14, Mission #1214 from 30th Space Wing (Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.) aboard the Titan IIID pictured. Hexagon's primary panoramic camera ensured photography of all of the world's inhabited regions. Between June 1971 and April 1986, a total of 20 Hexagon mission were flown for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Intelligence Community, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

In its early days, Hexagon was the largest satellite the NRO boosted into orbit, prompting a local California newspaper reporter covering the first Hexagon launch to nickname the then unacknowledged spacecraft, "Big Bird." #ThrowbackThursday

Read more about the Hexagon program: http://www.nro.gov/foia/declass/GAMBHEX.html
Best quote heard during an inspection, "I was unaware that I was the only one who was aware."

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