Author Topic: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions  (Read 4239 times)

Offline Blackstar

  • Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 10843
  • Liked: 2345
  • Likes Given: 1
Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« on: 08/07/2017 07:30 PM »
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/3302/1

Black ops and the shuttle (part 2): Reconnaissance missions in the space shuttle, from WASP to ZEUS
by Dwayne Day
Monday, August 7, 2017

The nearest communities to Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s Central Coast are Lompoc and Santa Maria. Although not exactly sleepy little towns, nobody would mistake them for bustling communities: the most significant industries are flowers and the federal penitentiary. But things would have gone differently if the space shuttle had ever started flying out of Space Launch Complex-6 (“Slick-6”) at Vandenberg. Not only would the base have gained a lot of work processing shuttles and the sophisticated payloads that used them, but tens of thousands of tourists would have flooded into the area to watch the launches, giving a shot of adrenaline to the local economies each time. Many of the launches would have been classified, but notices would have gone out that they were occurring, and tourists would have shown up. That certainly would have happened if ZEUS had ever appeared.

The public would not have known it was called ZEUS. And in fact, the name probably would have been changed if the program had ever become operational. ZEUS was a late 1970s plan by the secretive National Reconnaissance Office, which operated the United States’ highly classified intelligence satellites, to mount a powerful camera system inside the shuttle’s payload bay and launch out of Vandenberg perhaps four times a year. One variant of ZEUS would have operated from the payload bay during a shuttle mission lasting up to three weeks, whereas a later version would have been deployed into low Earth orbit in groups of three hockey-puck shaped satellites, which might have been serviced in orbit on following flights. If it had been given the go-ahead, perhaps a majority of the shuttle launches from California would have carried ZEUS payloads into orbit.

But ZEUS never got to fly, the space shuttle never launched from Vandenberg, and the local communities never got to bask in the glory of a space shuttle rising on pillars of flame over the mountains of the Pacific Coast.

Offline Blackstar

  • Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 10843
  • Liked: 2345
  • Likes Given: 1
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #1 on: 08/07/2017 07:31 PM »

Offline Blackstar

  • Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 10843
  • Liked: 2345
  • Likes Given: 1
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #2 on: 08/07/2017 07:32 PM »
Black ops and the shuttle (part 1)
On-orbit servicing and recovery of the HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite
by Dwayne Day
Monday, February 13, 2017

In December 1993, the space shuttle Endeavour rendezvoused with the Hubble Space Telescope to conduct one of the most high-profile missions of the entire shuttle program. Over the next ten days, the crew of mission STS-61 installed corrective optics to fix the Hubble’s flawed vision, replaced instruments and gyroscopes and solar panels, and sent Hubble off as practically a new telescope.
The space shuttle was more than simply a replacement for the Titan III. The shuttle offered many opportunities for improving the HEXAGON’s design.

Twenty years earlier, the secretive National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that operated America’s fleet of intelligence satellites evaluated the possibility of doing this kind of mission on a regular basis with the largest reconnaissance satellite then in the inventory, the schoolbus-sized HEXAGON. The NRO and its contractors studied refurbishment and resupply of satellites in orbit, as well as recovery and refurbishment on the ground, considering the value and the drawbacks—and, most importantly, the costs—of resurrecting expired intelligence spacecraft.

This was the first of many studies over the next decade initiated by the NRO to evaluate adapting its various intelligence satellites to use the Space Transportation System. Much of the history of the NRO’s involvement in the space shuttle program remains classified. But many new details are emerging about this period and particularly the NRO’s largest, and most important spacecraft at the time.

Offline Star One

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8020
  • UK
  • Liked: 1281
  • Likes Given: 168
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #3 on: 08/07/2017 08:57 PM »
Thanks for those articles.

Offline brahmanknight

  • I don't have all the right answers, but I do have all the right questions
  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 686
  • Liked: 7
  • Likes Given: 93
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #4 on: 08/08/2017 12:51 PM »
This might be my favorite piece from you, yet. 


Offline Archibald

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2054
  • Liked: 207
  • Likes Given: 573
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #5 on: 08/09/2017 11:51 AM »
Hans Mark was really a curious man. I think he was under influence of von Braun and had a little too much love for manned spaceflight. Some decisions he made at Ames (he was the center director from 1969 - 77), NRO and later as NASA deputy administrator were controversials.

I often wonder why the Pioneer probe program was dropped after Pioneer-Venus ?


Offline Archibald

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2054
  • Liked: 207
  • Likes Given: 573
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #6 on: 08/09/2017 11:53 AM »
Nice article, by the way. Interesting as usual. Can't wait for part 3 - bringing spent KH-9s down to Earth.

Should give some limited hindsight about how hard it would have been to bring Hubble to Earth (as was more or less planned before STS-107).

Offline Star One

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8020
  • UK
  • Liked: 1281
  • Likes Given: 168
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #7 on: 08/09/2017 11:54 AM »
Hans Mark was really a curious man. I think he was under influence of von Braun and had a little too much love for manned spaceflight. Some decisions he made at Ames (he was the center director from 1969 - 77), NRO and later as NASA deputy administrator were controversials.

I often wonder why the Pioneer probe program was dropped after Pioneer-Venus ?

He only seems curious to you because you obviously disagree with some of the decisions he made.

Offline Jim

  • Night Gator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 31222
  • Cape Canaveral Spaceport
  • Liked: 9495
  • Likes Given: 298
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #8 on: 08/09/2017 11:55 AM »
Not really.  HST was designed for it.  Just grab it and remove solar arrays

Offline Jim

  • Night Gator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 31222
  • Cape Canaveral Spaceport
  • Liked: 9495
  • Likes Given: 298
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #9 on: 08/09/2017 11:56 AM »
Hans Mark was really a curious man. I think he was under influence of von Braun and had a little too much love for manned spaceflight. Some decisions he made at Ames (he was the center director from 1969 - 77), NRO and later as NASA deputy administrator were controversials.

I often wonder why the Pioneer probe program was dropped after Pioneer-Venus ?

He only seems curious to you because you obviously disagree with some of the decisions he made.

It had nothing to do with Mark

Offline Blackstar

  • Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 10843
  • Liked: 2345
  • Likes Given: 1
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #10 on: 08/09/2017 04:46 PM »
1-Nice article, by the way. Interesting as usual.

2-Can't wait for part 3 - bringing spent KH-9s down to Earth.

3-Should give some limited hindsight about how hard it would have been to bring Hubble to Earth (as was more or less planned before STS-107).

1-Thank you, that is most kind.

2-Part 3 is now 99% written, but I need to edit it some more. Once ZEUS was canceled, the plan was to use the KH-11 KENNEN satellites (apparently Block 2 versions) to fly at higher apogees and provide the area search imagery that had been provided by HEXAGON since 1971. However, it seems that there were some in the NRO who were concerned about a gap in coverage before that happened. They may also (we don't know) have been concerned that the KENNEN solution might not have worked. So in 1982 they proposed to recover the last HEXAGONs and re-fly them a single time (launching on a Titan 34D).

There was a proposal to recover #18, which was then scheduled for launch in 1983. And there were also proposals to recover #19 and #20, then scheduled for launch in 1984 and 1985. The #18 recovery would have had to occur in 1984, before Vandenberg's SLC-6 was available, thus requiring a polar launch from the Cape. This would have involved dropping the SRBs off of Daytona Beach and the shuttle flying inland, eventually flying over Cleveland, Ohio. This proposal was active as of August 1982. It was rejected. The proposal to recover #19 or #20 was also rejected. The launch of HEXAGON #20 was delayed from 1985 to 1986, but available records are unclear why it was delayed. One possible reason for the delay was that they wanted to have more overlap between the last HEXAGON launch and the debut of the KENNEN Block 2 spacecraft. After the loss of HEXAGON #20 in April 1986 (it blew up over the launch pad) there was a contractor proposal to fly the HEXAGON development camera in the shuttle payload bay. This was rejected by the NRO.

3-Hubble was always designed for shuttle launch. HEXAGON was designed for Titan IIID (later 34D) launch. One of the interesting things about HEXAGON is that it apparently did not require much redesign for shuttle launch or recovery. There were a number of minor systems changes (retractable or jettisonable solar panels, for instance, moving a couple of antennas, adding a grapple fixture), but for the most part the spacecraft could be adapted to shuttle. One change is that they would have gone to water recovery for the Satellite Reentry Vehicles if they re-flew the HEXAGON. The reason is that they were going to shut down the C-130 recovery squadron in Hawaii.

One interesting change is that if they had ever launched a HEXAGON on a shuttle, the vehicle would have faced down in the payload bay (cameras and SRVs pointed toward the floor). But if they recovered a used HEXAGON in orbit, it would have faced up in the payload bay (see image). Without the heavy SRVs to worry about, they would have recovered it with the HEXAGON forebody closer to the payload bay floor, lowering the CG.

Offline Blackstar

  • Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 10843
  • Liked: 2345
  • Likes Given: 1
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #11 on: 08/09/2017 04:50 PM »
Hans Mark was really a curious man. I think he was under influence of von Braun and had a little too much love for manned spaceflight. Some decisions he made at Ames (he was the center director from 1969 - 77), NRO and later as NASA deputy administrator were controversials.

Mark is a bit of an enigma. Mark published a book in 1987 titled The Space Station, a Personal Journey, in which he discussed his involvement with the shuttle when he was serving as Secretary of the Air Force. Mark wrote the book at a time when the NRO was still classified, so he could not acknowledge his connection with that organization. He wrote:

"During my service in the Pentagon from 1977 to 1981, I tried to modify the policies of the Air Force toward the Space Shuttle. One thing I tried to do was to urge people to design their spacecraft in such a way that full advantage would be taken of the capability of the Space Shuttle. I was partially successful in doing this, and certain spacecraft were designed to take full advantage of the payload capacity of the shuttle and of the volume of the payload bay. (It is interesting that seven years earlier the design of the shuttle was, of course, developed in such a way that just these things could be done.) In addition, I also succeeded in getting some of the people in the Air Force to think about the possibility of building their spacecraft in such a way that they could be retrieved and then refurbished and used again. There was even the possibility of repairing, replenishing, and maintaining spacecraft on orbit by using the ability of the shuttle crews to go out and perform extravehicular activities."


I have heard from a couple of people that Mark was not liked at NRO, apparently because of his shuttle interest. I believe that somebody also told me that Mark was good at not leaving his fingerprints on key decisions. I've never met him.

Offline Archibald

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2054
  • Liked: 207
  • Likes Given: 573
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #12 on: 08/10/2017 07:20 AM »
Quote
The reason is that they were going to shut down the C-130 recovery squadron in Hawaii.

Why would it be shut down ?
Seems as if somebody decided - enough capsules, the KH-11 can do both KH-8 and KH-9 jobs without any expensive C-130 recovery squadron.
« Last Edit: 08/10/2017 07:21 AM by Archibald »

Offline Blackstar

  • Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 10843
  • Liked: 2345
  • Likes Given: 1
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #13 on: 08/10/2017 03:59 PM »
Quote
The reason is that they were going to shut down the C-130 recovery squadron in Hawaii.

Why would it be shut down ?
Seems as if somebody decided - enough capsules, the KH-11 can do both KH-8 and KH-9 jobs without any expensive C-130 recovery squadron.

It was expensive. They had something like 10 C-130s, 6 helicopters, and over 500 personnel. And they had a high state of operational readiness, which meant that the had a high budget (for spare parts and stuff). GAMBIT was retired in 1984. HEXAGON was originally supposed to have its last flight in 1985, but it was postponed to 1986. When the shuttle recovery was being discussed in 1982, I presume that the reentry vehicle recovery squadron was going to be disbanded in 1985 or 1986. So they were planning for that--if they did a HEXAGON recovery by shuttle in 1986, then the HEXAGON would not re-fly until 1987 or later. It would not make sense to keep the recovery squadron active for several years with nothing to recover.

Offline zubenelgenubi

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1075
  • Arc to Arcturus, then Spike to Spica
  • Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Liked: 227
  • Likes Given: 617
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #14 on: 08/10/2017 06:36 PM »
Quote
The reason is that they were going to shut down the C-130 recovery squadron in Hawaii.

Why would it be shut down ?
Seems as if somebody decided - enough capsules, the KH-11 can do both KH-8 and KH-9 jobs without any expensive C-130 recovery squadron.

It was expensive. They had something like 10 C-130s, 6 helicopters, and over 500 personnel. And they had a high state of operational readiness, which meant that the had a high budget (for spare parts and stuff).
<snip>
Did the recovery squadron have a "cover" mission?
Support your local planetarium!

Offline Archibald

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2054
  • Liked: 207
  • Likes Given: 573
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #15 on: 08/10/2017 06:40 PM »
Quote
They had something like 10 C-130s, 6 helicopters

That's quite a fleet indeed. Some European countries have transport fleets that are smaller than that.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/15th_Air_Transport_Wing
« Last Edit: 08/10/2017 06:41 PM by Archibald »

Offline Jim

  • Night Gator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 31222
  • Cape Canaveral Spaceport
  • Liked: 9495
  • Likes Given: 298
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #16 on: 08/10/2017 07:17 PM »
Quote
The reason is that they were going to shut down the C-130 recovery squadron in Hawaii.

Why would it be shut down ?
Seems as if somebody decided - enough capsules, the KH-11 can do both KH-8 and KH-9 jobs without any expensive C-130 recovery squadron.

It was expensive. They had something like 10 C-130s, 6 helicopters, and over 500 personnel. And they had a high state of operational readiness, which meant that the had a high budget (for spare parts and stuff).
<snip>
Did the recovery squadron have a "cover" mission?

No.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/6593d_Test_Squadron
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/6594th_Test_Group




Offline Blackstar

  • Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 10843
  • Liked: 2345
  • Likes Given: 1

Offline rguser

  • Member
  • Posts: 34
  • Liked: 15
  • Likes Given: 0
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #18 on: 08/11/2017 08:28 AM »
There appears to be a problem with the photo on page 11 of the article titled "Catching the End of an Era" as the text describing the photo implies that it is the catch of HEXAGON mission 1219-3.  Unfortunately, it appears to be of a dummy practice test item and not an actual Mark 8 RV.  The catch-cone is not the one used on an actual Mark 8 RV and the "bucket's" shape is not that of a Mark 8 film bucket.

Offline zubenelgenubi

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1075
  • Arc to Arcturus, then Spike to Spica
  • Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Liked: 227
  • Likes Given: 617
Re: Top Secret Space Shuttle Missions
« Reply #19 on: 08/11/2017 09:45 PM »
As a side-note, I enjoyed the Babylon 5 references that Dwayne used to work into his article titles for The Space Review.

I hope it would be possible to continue that theme, if the author desires?

Just a thought.
« Last Edit: 08/11/2017 09:47 PM by zubenelgenubi »
Support your local planetarium!

Tags: