Author Topic: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites  (Read 114472 times)

Offline jcm

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #20 on: 01/13/2009 05:48 am »
Nice long article, worth the read...

Thank you.  As I noted earlier, this is essentially going to be a very long Spaceflight article with footnotes.  It will probably be #3 or #4 in a series. 

The series will probably be:

1-the origins of the Samos recoverable satellites and the proposals for a "covert satellite" using an ICBM
2-the Samos E-6 satellite and the SPARTAN (half E-6) program
3-the KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT

I might split 3 into two parts to become 3 and 4.  In addition, I have new information on the KH-6, developed from the Samos E-5, and that could possibly fit in between parts 2 and 3.  Dunno.  Gotta get off my butt and submit part 1.

Quick question, do you think the solar panel layout would be similar to the Seasat's?

I don't know.  Corona mission 1115, which flew in Sept 1971, was a single panel that extended out from the aft rack of the Agena (I've got an illustration of it from a declassified history that I could scan and post in a few days).  It looks a lot like the arrays on the Apollo Telescope Mount on Skylab.

Presumably you could fit two of these.  This may have been the Seasat array a few years later.  I don't think that power requirements for KH-8 were all that high, especially compared to Seasat with a radar.  So maybe KH-8 only carried one array, or two short ones.

However, we don't have good documentation on the solar panels carried by _any_ Agena.  I don't know when they were first carried at all, although they were projected for early Samos and Midas.  So we don't know anything about what kinds of solar panels were developed for Agena and when.

Here's another question--how do you bring a KH-8 down for a low pass with that array?  Do you pull it in and then deploy it?  Do you fly only a single array?

I am pretty sure the first Agena solar panels were on Midas 3. The design of the early panels included two 'strongbacks' which held the panels in place and were ejected into orbit, they are in the satellite catalog. That design feature was soon dropped and the later Agena solar panel missions (e.g. the RTS follow-on to Midas) didn't generate extra debris.

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Jonathan McDowell
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Offline Analyst

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #21 on: 01/13/2009 09:25 am »
Very interesting.

I have a problem with this sentence: "Three KH-8s were launched in 1966 and seven in 1967 while the older KH-7 was still operating. Eight were launched in 1968 and six in 1969. But starting in October 1969 with the 23rd KH-8 launch, the last of the year, the KH-8 began operating with two SRVs."

This gives a total of 24 launches from 1966 to 1969. The last launch in 1969 is therefore the 24th, indicating 23 KH-8 before.

At the end of the paper a total of 54 launches, including 29 KH-8A is given. This indicates two KH-8 flew after the first KH-8A. Is it known which ones? Is Higher Boy one of these two?

Analyst

Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #22 on: 01/13/2009 02:04 pm »
I am pretty sure the first Agena solar panels were on Midas 3. The design of the early panels included two 'strongbacks' which held the panels in place and were ejected into orbit, they are in the satellite catalog. That design feature was soon dropped and the later Agena solar panel missions (e.g. the RTS follow-on to Midas) didn't generate extra debris.

jcm
[/quote]

I might have a mistaken notion but I suspect that Midas 2 carried solar
panels. If not, can anyone identify the 3 flat objects on the aft section of the Agena? I have another image to find that does show the same object(s).
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #23 on: 01/13/2009 02:29 pm »
Which objects?

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Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #24 on: 01/13/2009 02:43 pm »
Which objects?

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Just below the checkerboard pattern are 3 dark (flat) rectangular objects. 2 appear at RH side and one at far LH.
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #25 on: 01/13/2009 03:45 pm »
Are Charles Vick's writings at globalsecurity considered trustworthy?

Have they been translated into English yet?

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #26 on: 01/20/2009 05:15 pm »
Okay, I'm bored right now.  So here's something:

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1287/1

Launch failures: two Thors, one problem
by Wayne Eleazer
Monday, January 19, 2009

The US Air Force launched hundreds of Thor space boosters over a period of more than 20 years, and the vast majority used the traditional space launch approach. Contractors, mainly the companies that built the flight hardware, would design, integrate, assemble, and test the vehicles, all under the control of an Air Force System Program Office (SPO) and Aerospace Test Group. However, a significant minority of Air Force Thor launches used a completely different approach, termed “Blue Suit Launch.”


Eleazer used to be in charge of the Thor program and knows how things worked from the inside.  I think that the overall theme of this article is that even with highly mature launch vehicles like the Thor in the 1970s, it was still necessary to be highly diligent and check everything carefully or the flight could fail.

By the way, those launches went out of SLC-10 at Vandenberg.  That site is preserved as a historic landmark.  You can visit it.  A rather odd experience, as it is up from the water and can get cold and windy there.  It is right nearby to SLC-1 and SLC-2 where the first Corona satellites launched.
« Last Edit: 01/20/2009 05:15 pm by Blackstar »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #27 on: 01/20/2009 05:17 pm »
And here's an image I found while digging through some disks.  It shows an early test of the C-130 for satellite recovery.  They started using C-119s, but then transitioned to the C-130 which was newer and more capable.  Also more reliable.  By the time the KH-9 started flying in 1971, they really needed the ability to capture very heavy return vehicles.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #28 on: 01/26/2009 02:34 pm »
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1295/1

A ray of sunshine into a dark world: the future declassification of satellite reconnaissance information
by Dwayne A. Day
Monday, January 26, 2009

"I bring all this up now because there is reason to hope that the situation will change and in the next few years some of the reconnaissance systems that the United States built during the Cold War may be declassified. It is possible, although not necessarily probable, but that is a significant difference from only a week ago. Maybe, just maybe, in the next few years we might actually learn more about the amazing machines like the KH-9 that collected intelligence and helped win the Cold War."

Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #29 on: 01/26/2009 02:42 pm »
That is really good news for all of us! And lots of work for you......
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Offline Jim

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #30 on: 01/26/2009 03:41 pm »
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1295/1


Notice that there are few if any photos of the T-IIID from the other side

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #31 on: 01/26/2009 04:13 pm »
That is really good news for all of us! And lots of work for you......

It's not work if you love doing it.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #32 on: 01/26/2009 04:16 pm »
Notice that there are few if any photos of the T-IIID from the other side

I've got some.  Lots of hatches.  Problem is that it's not clear how the hatches correspond to anything on the spacecraft.

I've been told that when the last one blew up above the launch pad, there was one frame of tracking camera footage that showed the shroud completely blown off and the payload exposed:

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1268/1

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #33 on: 03/06/2010 12:17 am »
I'm getting back to this topic after having acquired some new information on the KH-7.  The new info provides a number of interesting technical details on the early development of the spacecraft.  It also gives me hope that declassification may be about to happen in the near future (i.e. no more than a couple of years).

The new details are:

-land recovery was originally planned for the KH-7 film return vehicle
-the program had a number of early development problems
-the Stellar/Index framing camera was an early add-on, but could not be incorporated until the fourth vehicle
-a roll joint was included in the vehicle from the start, allowing the Agena to actually provide stabilization in addition to the GE Orbital Control Vehicle

More on these in the next post, with some interesting questions.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #34 on: 03/06/2010 12:34 am »
Okay, land recovery:

I'm pretty sure that this new information--that the KH-7 GAMBIT was originally supposed to have land recovery of its film-return capsule--is new and that it has not been previously released.  I believe (without checking my notes) that land recovery was considered for the Samos E-6 and then rejected in favor of water recovery, but I don't remember seeing anything about the KH-7 aiming for land recovery.

It turns out that land recovery was rejected relatively late in the program, NOT early in the program as I have previously written:

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1279/2

It was really rejected around fall 1962.  The program was started in summer 1960 and first flight of the vehicle was in summer 1963, so it was already well underway when they made the switch.  They decided to choose the CORONA Satellite Recovery Vehicle built by General Electric.  The GE SRV was already proven by this time.  Because recovery had been such a pain for CORONA and then Samos E-5 and E-6, it made sense to switch to the SRV that was proven by fall 1962.

However, what I've learned is that there were reasons why land recovery was not a good choice.  At first glance it seems to make sense to bring down the capsule in the central US.  The goal was to bring it down at Wendover, Utah.  That would have been secure territory (no Soviet submarines lurking about) and closer to both Washington, DC and the film processing center at Kodak in Rochester, NY.

But it turns out that bringing down a spacecraft in the central US creates a lot of problems.  For starters, they needed a ground station to send the de-orbit command.  I'm not exactly sure where this was supposed to be, but it would have to be very far northeast of Wendover.  Either Canada, or maybe Greenland.  That meant international agreements and also meant putting a secret facility on foreign territory.

Another problem is that land recovery really restricts the design of the recovery vehicle.  The CORONA SRV could shed pieces as it came down, jettisoning a parachute cover (possibly a couple of these--I'd have to check) and then its heat shield.  If the vehicle is coming down over the continental United States, you cannot be dropping debris off of it.  At the very least that debris could end up in someone's hands, prompting questions about what it was.  Bring down the vehicle in the Pacific and all the debris sinks.

Also, there was the possibility of an errant vehicle coming down in Canada, or more likely, Mexico. This would require preparing a special recovery group that could go in to retrieve it.  An errant CORONA SRV would simply sink.

There may have been other downsides, but I don't have them all yet.

But, this raises an interesting question: do we have any evidence for a land recovery RV under development between 1960 and 1962?  It may not have flown during this time.  But I have wondered if the ASSET program had any connection to satellite reconnaissance.  I also have wondered if the PRIME program was also a possible R&D effort.  I don't know.  But I'm going to have to explore this some more.

Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #35 on: 03/06/2010 01:51 am »
Great topic. Hope more comes forth from declassification and your research.

Add the retrorocket to the debris?
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #36 on: 03/06/2010 02:35 am »
Add the retrorocket to the debris?

Yep.  So imagine this vehicle starting reentry, and it starts shedding all of this stuff.  Put the endpoint at Wendover, Utah.  Then draw a line upwards, matching the orbital track for a reconsat in polar orbit.  Then imagine the debris falling on that track.  There's some sparsely populated territory up there, but still, do you want to drop things on Canada or Idaho or Utah on a regular basis?  No.  So then you have to design--if possible--a spacecraft that doesn't shed the debris, but brings it all down.  This probably ends up rather heavy. 

And as anybody knows who has thought out the ramifications of spacecraft design, the heavier the end product, the more that flows back through the design.  So the capsule is heavier, and then the parachute has to be bigger, which puts more weight onto the upper stage, which puts more weight onto the first stage, etc.

But, I'm really interested in trying to figure out if there was a vehicle that was being designed and tested around this time.  Just how sure are we that ASSET was connected to Dyna-Soar?  Could it have had an ulterior origin?

Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #37 on: 03/06/2010 02:40 am »
Consider PRIME as well for cross range?
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #38 on: 03/06/2010 02:46 am »
The inclusion of the roll joint into the spacecraft design is an interesting development.  For those who don't know, the KH-1, 2, 3 and 4 CORONA vehicles all stayed attached to the Agena while in orbit.  The KH-7 spacecraft detached from the Agena.  The camera was attached to a smaller General Electric built spacecraft called the Orbital Control Vehicle, or OCV.

The OCV used cold gas jets to maintain stability.  One person who told me about it referred to it as a "bang bang system" because the jets made a bang bang noise when they fired (the shuttle's RCS thrusters are similar).

But, apparently early in the development the designers grew concerned about the OCV's ability to point the camera.  So they decided to design in a roll joint, probably between the OCV and the Agena.  This allowed the camera with OCV to roll to the left and right while still attached to the Agena, which provided stability.  That way the camera could point to either side of its ground track.

This roll joint was borrowed from the KH-6 LANYARD reconsat.  Now I previously assumed that the roll joint was incorporated when they went from the KH-7 to the KH-8.  The KH-8 design dispensed with the OCV and simply kept the camera attached to the Agena.  But apparently they incorporated the roll joint in from the start, just in case they decided to stay attached to the Agena.

Now we know from orbital data that the first several KH-7s stayed attached to the Agenas early in their orbits, then dumped their reentry vehicles, then detached the OCVs from the Agenas.  That was an insurance policy, and they tested the OCV _after_ the reconnaissance mission was over.  But including the roll joint from the start seems to be a rather stunning statement about lack of faith in the OCV.  And it also means that Lockheed had an easier job eventually arguing that the OCV should be eliminated and the Agena used for the entire mission.

Why does this matter?  Well, Lockheed developed a total monopoly on US reconnaissance satellites.  They built all of them.  There were a few examples from the early 1970s where the USAF and NRO tried to break this monopoly by going to other companies like GE to provide the spacecraft.  But after the KH-7, all the contracts went to Lockheed: KH-8, 9, 11.  The Future Imagery Architecture went to Boeing, but they screwed up, and now the contracts are going back to Lockheed.  My sense is that over a long period of time there has been a lot of annoyance within the recon community that Lockheed is too damn expensive, but their products ultimately work. They know what they're doing.  You get what you pay for.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #39 on: 03/06/2010 02:47 am »
Consider PRIME as well for cross range?

Yes.  I have a lot of PRIME documents, and I want to write about PRIME.  But do we know the origins of PRIME?  Do we know the origins of ASSET?  Are we _sure_ that these originated the way we think we do?  Or have we simply assumed that ASSET was associated solely with Dyna-Soar and PRIME was solely a test program?  Is it possible that they had spooky connections?

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