Author Topic: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite  (Read 76453 times)

Offline Will O Wisp

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #240 on: 07/03/2023 01:36 am »
Just to be clear, I didn't mean there was a lack of effort in the creation of the display. Rather I meant there was a lack of effort on whoever made the post on the NRO's facebook.

When Itek proposed the KH-4B, which significantly changed the camera system, the NRO would not fund a full engineering prototype. Instead, they funded a single camera. That's what Itek built. When the program was ending, that was the only hardware that was saved (I have vague recollection of reading in one of the official histories that there was a proposal to save the last flight vehicle for a museum--as was done with the last two GAMBIT-1 vehicles, but that was rejected by the NRO Director, but I don't know where I read that). NRO did pay for the creation of a wooden mockup camera that was added to that engineering camera. They also incorporated a flown reentry vehicle. It is possible that the takeup reels on that were also flown and recovered in reentry vehicles. Most recovered CORONA hardware (the reentry vehicles) were scrapped. Perhaps they were all buried in the desert at Area 51.

The CORONA mockup was put on display at the headquarters for the National Photographic Interpretation Center. It was apparently on display there until the early 1990s at least. When the program was declassified in 1995, that hardware was displayed at a CIA adjunct facility (I saw it there and there was a speech by Vice President Al Gore). Then it was displayed at the Smithsonian, before it was finally put on permanent display at the Smithsonian. Around 1999 or so, I assisted two of the camera designers with re-threading the film through the camera at the Smithsonian. (In reality, they did 99% of the work and I think I got to hold the Scotch tape.)

I always assumed there wasn't a CORONA saved because of the delays to HEXAGON, and in a larger sense the failures of SAMOS and ARGON. Being a series of stopgaps, it would make sense there wouldn't be planning for spares.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #241 on: 07/03/2023 02:31 am »
I always assumed there wasn't a CORONA saved because of the delays to HEXAGON, and in a larger sense the failures of SAMOS and ARGON. Being a series of stopgaps, it would make sense there wouldn't be planning for spares.

That was probably the case, although I have not gone through the documents carefully to determine that. The NRO did try to have substantial overlap between phasing out an older program and phasing in a new one. I don't know off the top of my head how long, but I think that generally they did it for about a year. That way if they ran into any problems with the new system (GAMBIT-3, HEXAGON) they might have been short on fulfilling requirements, but they still had some coverage with the old system.

I'll have to check my notes. I have a very long and detailed article about the building of the KH-4B CORONA that I need to edit one last time and then publish. I think that in that article I have info about HEXAGON delays, and about delaying the retirement of the KH-4B, but I don't think I have anything on the plan to preserve a flight spare for the Smithsonian.

Offline Will O Wisp

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #242 on: 07/03/2023 06:15 am »
I always assumed there wasn't a CORONA saved because of the delays to HEXAGON, and in a larger sense the failures of SAMOS and ARGON. Being a series of stopgaps, it would make sense there wouldn't be planning for spares.

That was probably the case, although I have not gone through the documents carefully to determine that. The NRO did try to have substantial overlap between phasing out an older program and phasing in a new one. I don't know off the top of my head how long, but I think that generally they did it for about a year. That way if they ran into any problems with the new system (GAMBIT-3, HEXAGON) they might have been short on fulfilling requirements, but they still had some coverage with the old system.

I'll have to check my notes. I have a very long and detailed article about the building of the KH-4B CORONA that I need to edit one last time and then publish. I think that in that article I have info about HEXAGON delays, and about delaying the retirement of the KH-4B, but I don't think I have anything on the plan to preserve a flight spare for the Smithsonian.

A quick check of launch dates shows the first two HEXAGON flights and the last three CORONA flights overlapped, covering a period of just under a year, so that tracks with your recollection.

Interestingly the third to last CORONA flight flew 9 months after the previous one, in September 1971, a month after the first HEXAGON flight. Then another 7 month wait, to fly a little over one month after the second HEXAGON mission. Then the last flight came just a month after that.
« Last Edit: 07/03/2023 06:16 am by Will O Wisp »

Offline Hobbes-22

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #243 on: 07/03/2023 07:44 am »
did Corona (and film-based satellites in general) have a pressurized environment for the film?
After the first few CORONA missions (where ironically corona discharge in the vacuum environment caused film marking when passing over the film rollers) the film transport occurred in a very low pressure Nitrogen environment (<13 Pa), and this carried over to all later film-based satellites. Hexagon also used air-bearings to allow film to move (and accelerate) faster with less risk of scratching than over mechanical rollers, not sure if earlier vehicles also did. The camera optics remained evacuated.

How did they deal with outgassing/evaporation of the film emulsion in such low pressures?

Offline Targeteer

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #244 on: 07/03/2023 09:05 am »
It doesn't seem like they put much effort into it. The Smithsonian display is made up of spare parts from the KH-4B program, which ran from 1967-1972. The camera system in particular has very little to do with the one on the original Discoverer flight (for example, there were now two cameras on each sat!).

 (In reality, they did 99% of the work and I think I got to hold the Scotch tape.)

Your training and certification to perform this vital task was of course meticulously documented :)
Best quote heard during an inspection, "I was unaware that I was the only one who was aware."

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #245 on: 07/03/2023 12:46 pm »
It doesn't seem like they put much effort into it. The Smithsonian display is made up of spare parts from the KH-4B program, which ran from 1967-1972. The camera system in particular has very little to do with the one on the original Discoverer flight (for example, there were now two cameras on each sat!).

 (In reality, they did 99% of the work and I think I got to hold the Scotch tape.)

Your training and certification to perform this vital task was of course meticulously documented :)

I do actually have photos of us re-threading the film. Dunno where. They're prints, not electronic, because this was in the olden times.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #246 on: 07/03/2023 05:00 pm »
Okay, I looked at my KH-4B CORONA history and did not find anything about trying to preserve the last CORONA flight vehicle for a museum. It might be mentioned in "The CORONA Story" or in the Ruffner history (or the CIA's Studies in Intelligence CORONA history, which is not that good). If anybody finds it in any of those places, please let me know.

Here is an excerpt from the last part of my article:



Although the group was supposed to meet again in December 1969, Naka decided to hold another meeting in October at which point they reaffirmed their earlier conclusions. At this second meeting, the committee concluded that there was a 50% probability of HEXAGON being delayed not more than a month, a 75% probability of no more than three months delay, and a 95% probability of no more than six months delay. 

The NRO determined that a CORONA re-purchase decision did not need to be made in December but could be delayed a month. The committee met again in January 1970, visiting HEXAGON camera manufacturer Perkin-Elmer, spacecraft designer Lockheed, and then holding an executive session meeting at the Satellite Test Center in Sunnyvale, not far from where both CORONA and HEXAGON were assembled. HEXAGON was still on schedule for a December 1970 launch and the committee concluded that it was likely to function properly under normal conditions, but it was unclear if the system could operate at the extreme ends of its design operational ranges.

At their final meeting they reaffirmed their earlier conclusions about the unlikelihood of HEXAGON slipping far beyond its launch date, and stated that their committee “recommends no additional purchases of CORONA systems.”   In February, the DNRO submitted the committee’s report to the Director of Central Intelligence, who accepted the recommendation.

Unfortunately, the HEXAGON program ran into problems by mid-1970. In July 1970 the first HEXAGON flight camera assembly suffered a catastrophic failure during testing at the Perkin-Elmer plant. This required that the second flight article be substituted for the first mission. HEXAGON’s launch date slipped to April 1971 and then to May. A further problem encountered in April slipped the launch to mid-June—the kind of lengthy delay that the HEXAGON review team had claimed in October 1969 had only a 5% probability of happening.

By fall 1970, the State Department’s Director of Intelligence and Research, Ray S. Cline, wrote to the Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms to express concerns that intelligence requirements might exceed available assets in the near future. Cline pointed out that during the Arab-Israeli crisis the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft had provided much-needed imagery, but it could not do this for other crises. Cline suggested that it might be useful to evaluate the need for a “satellite crisis capability” that could be at least as good as that provided by CORONA in a standby mode. 

Cline’s letter kicked off a discussion among top intelligence officials. But by now CORONA production had wound down, and restarting it would mean that any new vehicles would not be ready until 1973, by which time HEXAGON would surely be operational. Restarting production would also be more expensive than only a year earlier when the CORONA production line was still hot. If HEXAGON continued on its then schedule, some CORONAs might be left over and could be held back in reserve to be launched in event of crises. Helms concluded that any additional funds should be spent not on CORONA, but on ensuring that HEXAGON stayed on schedule. 

With HEXAGON’s first launch slipped to April and then May 1971, by late 1970 and early 1971 the issue of purchasing additional CORONA vehicles arose once again, and the NRO Comptroller produced an estimate of costs for ordering two, three, or six systems. He also produced estimates of the cancellation costs if CORONA production was restarted and then ended if HEXAGON managed to meet its now-March 1971 launch date. 

When HEXAGON was originally scheduled for a December 1970 launch, there was an 11-month overlap between CORONA and HEXAGON operations. When HEXAGON’s first launch slipped into 1971 and the overlap with CORONA coverage shrank, NRO officials looked into ordering a specially-configured KH-8 GAMBIT-3 satellite known as HIGHER BOY, which would fly in a 525-nautical mile orbit to take wider-area photographs that would partly satisfy the search mission requirement. That would protect the 11-month overlap with CORONA. But with HEXAGON slipping to June or July 1971, the overlap with CORONA had gotten smaller. If HEXAGON’s launch date slipped to late 1971—with the last CORONA launch scheduled for November 1971—that would eliminate any overlap and could even open up a coverage gap. One solution was to stretch out the CORONA launch schedule even further at a time when the demand for CORONA missions was increasing. Other options included purchasing more HIGHER BOY missions. 

The situation became a bit more urgent in February 1971 when CORONA mission 1113 failed to reach orbit, opening up a gap in coverage that the Defense Intelligence Agency wanted to close by moving up the next CORONA launch. But by this time, Director of the NRO John McLucas had polled his Executive Committee and they responded that no more CORONAs should be purchased. That was the end of discussions of continuing CORONA. Almost. 

« Last Edit: 07/03/2023 05:01 pm by Blackstar »

Offline edzieba

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #247 on: 07/03/2023 05:10 pm »
did Corona (and film-based satellites in general) have a pressurized environment for the film?
After the first few CORONA missions (where ironically corona discharge in the vacuum environment caused film marking when passing over the film rollers) the film transport occurred in a very low pressure Nitrogen environment (<13 Pa), and this carried over to all later film-based satellites. Hexagon also used air-bearings to allow film to move (and accelerate) faster with less risk of scratching than over mechanical rollers, not sure if earlier vehicles also did. The camera optics remained evacuated.

How did they deal with outgassing/evaporation of the film emulsion in such low pressures?
They used the evaporation as part of the film path pressurisation system.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #248 on: 08/11/2023 04:53 pm »
I found this on Twitter and don't know where it originated. It's a nice quick comparison image.

[Clarification: I don't know what website it comes from. The original was produced by the National Photographic Interpretation Center, or NPIC, which analyzed the photos that came back from the satellites. There is a subtle difference in documents produced by NPIC vs. those produced by the National Reconnaissance Office, which built the satellites. Sometimes NPIC documents contained errors about designations of systems, because they were users of the data, not the builders of the satellites.]

I am not sure about some of the resolution numbers, however. For instance, the KH-6 is listed as 8 feet. But the resolution numbers for the only successful KH-6 LANYARD mission in documents are all over the place. I talked to the camera designer and he said he was pretty sure that it produced 2-foot resolution before it suffered an internal problem and then the rest of the images were worse. And all the goal resolution numbers were something like 5-6 feet (I'll have to check my notes). This 8-foot number may refer to the average resolution produced by that mission.

I also think the designations are a little confusing. I'll have to go check my notes, but I thought that:

C became KH-1
C' became KH-2
C''' became KH-3

This lists KH-2 C and KH-2 C' systems. I don't remember other documents making a distinction between two different KH-2 variants.

Also, the KH-4B with its J-3 camera is not listed here. KH-8 GAMBIT is also not listed. This was apparently produced in 1966 before they entered service (see the number at lower left which says "/66 NPIC").

« Last Edit: 08/11/2023 05:13 pm by Blackstar »

Offline hoku

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #249 on: 08/31/2023 10:50 pm »
NRO has placed online a few short memos on the MURAL (M) camera upgrade studies with an assessment of the M-2 vs. E-6 (SPARTAN) potential, dating March to August 1963. CORONA KH-4 (M) is quoted as achieving 9 ft ground resolution distance 15% of the time.

The main limitations at that time were still vehicle (Agena) stability, ground velocity and height (V/H) programming and compensation, film flatness and resolution (lines/mm), and a few other issues like thermal stability. Reaping the full potential of a M-2/E-6 upgrade would also have required a larger satellite return vehicle, and use of the Thrust Augmented Thor (TAT) booster (or alternatively an ATLAS). They decided on some low-level funding for lenses, Agena improvements, etc. as a fall-back option in case GAMBIT should run into problems.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #250 on: 09/01/2023 01:33 am »
There is a reference in one of the histories to an M-2 "dual platen" design. I have never been able to figure that out.

The platen was the surface that held the film while it was exposed. For CORONA, that surface was curved and the aperture swept over it, exposing the curved film held against the platen. There were two cameras, each with its own platen. One interpretation is that they were referring to the same configuration as CORONA, with two cameras, only the lens barrels would be longer. But I always had the impression that they were referring to using a single lens barrel with two platens, although I could not figure out how this would work, and there were not drawings of it.

If these really are newly-released documents (as opposed to just new versions of documents previously released), that is kinda funny, because all of the CORONA material should have been released a decade or more ago. Of course, there could still be CORONA materials buried in boxes that remain classified, and somebody found them and declassified them.


Offline hoku

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #251 on: 09/01/2023 06:09 pm »
There is a reference in one of the histories to an M-2 "dual platen" design. I have never been able to figure that out.

The platen was the surface that held the film while it was exposed. For CORONA, that surface was curved and the aperture swept over it, exposing the curved film held against the platen. There were two cameras, each with its own platen. One interpretation is that they were referring to the same configuration as CORONA, with two cameras, only the lens barrels would be longer. But I always had the impression that they were referring to using a single lens barrel with two platens, although I could not figure out how this would work, and there were not drawings of it.

If these really are newly-released documents (as opposed to just new versions of documents previously released), that is kinda funny, because all of the CORONA material should have been released a decade or more ago. Of course, there could still be CORONA materials buried in boxes that remain classified, and somebody found them and declassified them.
NRO placed it online related to FOIA request F-2022-00234. Maybe the memos haven't been available in electronic form up to now?
« Last Edit: 09/01/2023 06:14 pm by hoku »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #252 on: 09/01/2023 08:17 pm »
NRO placed it online related to FOIA request F-2022-00234. Maybe the memos haven't been available in electronic form up to now?

I've seen those documents before. They were released years ago and are probably in one of the big CORONA collections online. It is possible that some of the resolution information was deleted.

They are interesting in terms of their discussion of resolution. I forget when the Purcell Panel produced its report, but you'll notice that the M-2/SPARTAN discussion is about resolution at around 4-6 feet. The Purcell Panel determined that what was needed was resolution of 1 foot and swath coverage equal to CORONA. That's how the requirements for HEXAGON were established.

(I'm going by memory here and could be off a bit.)


Online catdlr

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #253 on: 12/06/2023 04:16 am »
Just something different and fun, nothing new, as part of a Smithsonian video on aerial photography, the Corona Reconnaissance Satellite is explored as a significant part of a short history summary of aerial photography.

Aerial Photography: An Overview

Quote
Dec 5, 2023
Did you know that to get photos from the air someone built a camera that could fit on a pigeon? Really it’s true, and people have attached cameras to kites, sent people with camera equipment up in hot air balloons, and even developed specialized reconnaissance aircraft that could hold a pilot and a photographer. Pictures from the air have become important for spying, search and rescue, tracking changes on Earth, and even identifying archaeological sites!

Tony De La Rosa, ...I'm no Feline Dealer!! I move mountains.  but I'm better known for "I think it's highly sexual." Japanese to English Translation.

Offline Targeteer

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #254 on: 12/19/2023 11:21 pm »
https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=687755050209522&set=a.164921892492843

National Reconnaissance Office #TechTuesday💡: The first Corona KH-4B camera, also called the J-3, launched on September 15, 1967.

This update enabled the system to fly in a lower orbit, obtain better photographic scale, and pack more information content per picture at a resolution of six feet.
Best quote heard during an inspection, "I was unaware that I was the only one who was aware."

 

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