Author Topic: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite  (Read 76311 times)

Offline Targeteer

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #40 on: 02/01/2021 05:15 pm »
National Reconnaissance Office 1h  ·

Parachute failures were numerous, which resulted in several design modifications. Research found that when special nylon webbing was sewn onto the parachutes in various locations, it reinforced the chute to help avoid the four-pronged bronze hooks from tearing completely through the silk and risers of the chutes. Other modifications of the parachutes had to be made to ensure a favorable descending speed of the chute and payload at the time of hook contact at recovery. 
“At this time, we were finding that airspeed and the impact of the recovery gear to the parachute was too much of a shock load (G-force)...We were using half-inch diameter nylon rope on our recovery winch, and sometimes it would snap in two at contact, and we would lose the chute and the payload, leaving it to plummet to the ground...An aluminum metal trough was designed. The aircraft floor was modified and the trough was recessed into our recovery area floor between the recovery winch and the rear of the aircraft. Then small lengths of nylon cord (100-pound test) were tied around the half-inch nylon rope. The rope was then zigzagged back and forth across the inside width of the trough and the many, many nylon strings were attached to aluminum pegs that were part of the trough assembly. What this procedure accomplished was to gradually absorb the shock through each snapping of the nylon cords, and not a violent sudden impact that severed the half-inch nylon rope. This technique proved successful. At the start of a midair recovery, as the bronze hook or hooks made contact with the descending reinforced parachute, a procedure began by the snapping of each cord very rapidly until all the zigzagged rope was now pulled out the rear of the aircraft, along with approximately three-fourths of the rope that was spooled onto the recovery winch, thus the payload was in tow waiting to be winched to the rear of the aircraft and pulled on board...As each snapping of cord took place, the initial shock load was spread over a greater time interval, thereby reducing the peak G-forces. The noise of the cords snapping at impact reminded me of the loud rapid sound of a machine gun firing.” - A2C Daniel Hill 
« Last Edit: 02/01/2021 05:18 pm by Targeteer »
Best quote heard during an inspection, "I was unaware that I was the only one who was aware."

Offline hoku

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #41 on: 04/09/2021 10:44 pm »
NRO has a brief news item on a time capsule, featuring a picture of their CORONA bucket display in Westfield’s main lobby.

https://www.nro.gov/News/News-Articles/Article/2565696/the-nro-time-capsule-acknowledging-the-future/



Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #42 on: 10/09/2021 03:05 pm »
During all this pandemic stuff I decided to work on a few writing projects. Unfortunately, I have not worked on the big one that I should work on. But I did consider that there have been maybe a half dozen or more articles that I've wanted to write for many years and have just not gotten around to them. One of those articles was on aircraft carriers spotted from space. I finally tackled that one:

https://thespacereview.com/article/4217/1

Another one I've wanted to do was the "Surveyor II" proposals, and I'm well along with that one. And another is about the Delta 180 test, and that one still needs some work. (I've got several more that I've thought about writing for a long time, but won't mention them yet.)

But... a couple of decades ago (yeah, really) when the NRO released a bunch of documents on CORONA, they also released a lot of photographs from the program as well, including photos of wooden mockups and brassboards (something we don't have for the other programs). I acquired paper copies and I started to think that it would be cool to write a well-illustrated article about the last CORONA type, the KH-4B (which used the J-3 camera). It turns out that NRO released quite a few photos of that one and they're good, showing many phases of the development and construction. But I just sat on that idea until this past summer when I finally decided to write the article. It's now in pretty good shape and I'm going to put together all the photos for it.

There are several official histories of the CORONA program and they're pretty good. "The CORONA Story" is really the best, although the multi-volume CIA history of CORONA provides a lot of extra detail. However, as I was writing the article, I started to notice some things where the details fell through the cracks. For example, I have not seen the histories mention that the last CORONA vehicles had solar panels, and that this increased the lifetime of the missions. In fact, the mission lifetimes increased several times during the course of both the KH-4A and KH-4B programs and the histories don't do a good job of explaining that. (I haven't found all the answers, but I've stumbled upon a few answers in non-obvious places--like an explanation for the solar panel change in a shrot update report to the imagery exploitation committee).

By the way, there's an excellent collection of CORONA, ARGON and LANYARD documents here:

https://www.nro.gov/FOIA//Major-NRO-Programs-and-Projects/CAL-Library-Listing/

And NRO has consolidated some of their collections here:

https://www.nro.gov/FOIA/Major-NRO-Programs-and-Projects/


« Last Edit: 10/09/2021 03:06 pm by Blackstar »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #43 on: 10/12/2021 07:23 pm »
Going through the CAL collection I came across a multi-volume study by Itek for a "geodetic satellite" that would have performed extensive mapping of the Earth. Rather than build a separate dedicated satellite for this (following on the brief operation of the KH-5 ARGON satellite), the NRO instead chose to include mapping capabilities on the HEXAGON, as well as an improved "indexing" camera on the KH-4B CORONA that could be used for mapping purposes (but was not specifically designed for it).

Here's an image of the geodetic satellite. The report includes an alternative configuration with the two reentry vehicles angled diagonally down, which was never adopted and is kinda weird.

Offline hoku

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #44 on: 10/12/2021 09:47 pm »
Going through the CAL collection I came across a multi-volume study by Itek for a "geodetic satellite" that would have performed extensive mapping of the Earth. Rather than build a separate dedicated satellite for this (following on the brief operation of the KH-5 ARGON satellite), the NRO instead chose to include mapping capabilities on the HEXAGON, as well as an improved "indexing" camera on the KH-4B CORONA that could be used for mapping purposes (but was not specifically designed for it).

Here's an image of the geodetic satellite. The report includes an alternative configuration with the two reentry vehicles angled diagonally down, which was never adopted and is kinda weird.
Brings back memories, i.e. my very first posts do this forum  ;)
(....) Perry's History Vol I (page 135), (...) states that the dedicated mapping satellite was favored by the Army Mapping Service, who didn't want to yield control to NRO, and that the project (code named "Vault/Tomas") later "disappeared" (...)
https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=15459.msg674631#msg674631

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #45 on: 10/12/2021 10:39 pm »
Going through the CAL collection I came across a multi-volume study by Itek for a "geodetic satellite" that would have performed extensive mapping of the Earth. Rather than build a separate dedicated satellite for this (following on the brief operation of the KH-5 ARGON satellite), the NRO instead chose to include mapping capabilities on the HEXAGON, as well as an improved "indexing" camera on the KH-4B CORONA that could be used for mapping purposes (but was not specifically designed for it).

Here's an image of the geodetic satellite. The report includes an alternative configuration with the two reentry vehicles angled diagonally down, which was never adopted and is kinda weird.
Brings back memories, i.e. my very first posts do this forum  ;)
(....) Perry's History Vol I (page 135), (...) states that the dedicated mapping satellite was favored by the Army Mapping Service, who didn't want to yield control to NRO, and that the project (code named "Vault/Tomas") later "disappeared" (...)
https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=15459.msg674631#msg674631

(You know how much I can beat you on this? I went through that collection in 1998 when it was only in paper form in some filing cabinets... at the NRO. I think I might be old.)

I'm not sure that Vault/Tomas is the same as this study. I think the geodetic satellite was evaluated after that. But you could dig through the material and see.

Offline hoku

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #46 on: 10/13/2021 06:29 am »
Going through the CAL collection I came across a multi-volume study by Itek for a "geodetic satellite" that would have performed extensive mapping of the Earth. Rather than build a separate dedicated satellite for this (following on the brief operation of the KH-5 ARGON satellite), the NRO instead chose to include mapping capabilities on the HEXAGON, as well as an improved "indexing" camera on the KH-4B CORONA that could be used for mapping purposes (but was not specifically designed for it).

Here's an image of the geodetic satellite. The report includes an alternative configuration with the two reentry vehicles angled diagonally down, which was never adopted and is kinda weird.
Brings back memories, i.e. my very first posts do this forum  ;)
(....) Perry's History Vol I (page 135), (...) states that the dedicated mapping satellite was favored by the Army Mapping Service, who didn't want to yield control to NRO, and that the project (code named "Vault/Tomas") later "disappeared" (...)
https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=15459.msg674631#msg674631

(You know how much I can beat you on this? I went through that collection in 1998 when it was only in paper form in some filing cabinets... at the NRO. I think I might be old.)

I'm not sure that Vault/Tomas is the same as this study. I think the geodetic satellite was evaluated after that. But you could dig through the material and see.
I humbly admit defeat. Vault/Tomas was discussed in 1961. The study of the Geodetic Optical Photographic Satellite System was launched in 1963, with the final report of ITEK's feasibility study being finished in 1966.

Online LittleBird

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #47 on: 10/13/2021 09:34 am »
NRO has a brief news item on a time capsule, featuring a picture of their CORONA bucket display in Westfield’s main lobby.

https://www.nro.gov/News/News-Articles/Article/2565696/the-nro-time-capsule-acknowledging-the-future/

Any idea what they are going to (have ?) put in the empty cabinet at the right hand of the lobby in the recent "Art" photo --- this is the one I facetiously thought they might enter for the Turner prize ... though I dunno ...

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #48 on: 10/15/2021 12:36 pm »
We were discussing costs the other day. This table does not show per-unit costs.

It comes from The CORONA Story, which is a good overview of the program. I have an article that is now 99% done concerning the KH-4B version of CORONA, the last model flown.

Offline libra

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #49 on: 10/28/2021 09:50 am »
Some raw numbers and calculations, just for the fun of it.

https://www.nro.gov/History-and-Studies/Center-for-the-Study-of-National-Reconnaissance/The-CORONA-Program/Fact-Sheet/

Between 1959 and 1972 the many variants of CORONA flew 144 missions, of which 102 brought back some imagery.
Quote
Over 800,000 images taken from space
Collection includes 2.1 million feet of film in 39,000 cans   (640 km of film ??!!!)

Now I wanted to understand why film readout (SAMOS E-1, E-2 and their "cousin" Lunar Orbiter) never stood a chance against plain old film buckets (that is: before the KH-11 and its CCD completely changed the game, but that's a very different story)

Perry history told me SAMOS E-2 hoped to beam a maximum of 50 pictures a day... in a future, optimized variant that never happened.

Lunar Orbiter 5 took 216 pictures in 12 days: 18 pictures a day.

Lunar Orbiter 4 took 199 pictures in 14 days: a bit more than 14 per day (14*14 = 196).

A rather comparable number with E-2 - which makes some sense, as they were related through Kodak and Bimat.

All right. So for the sake of comparison, how much photos a day did a CORONA achieved ?

Well... 800 000 pictures over 102 successfull missions is an average of  8000 photos per CORONA. Outch: that's already a huge difference: but that's not per day, but per complete mission duration.

So how long did CORONA lasted in orbit ? Went from "1-day for KH-1" to "19 days for KH-4B". Let's say 10 days, average again.

Sooo... 8000 pictures taken over an average 10 life duration: that's 800 pictures per day.

Which is SIXTEEN TIMES more than SAMOS E-2 (which never worked, actually: poor thing launched once, and exploded with its Atlas booster).

So how about Lunar Orbiter, which at least worked superbly ? 18 vs 800...  45 times less. 14 to 800 would be 57 times less.

It hurts.

So in a sense, analog film readout would have been 16 to 57 times less "productive" than plain old film dropped in return capsules / film buckets.

Even if they took one to two weeks to get the pictures into the hands of photo-interpreters or the President; even if they needed a standing fleet of C-130 "catchers" in Hawaii; - it is no surprise film buckets lasted as long as they did: 1959 to 1985 and the last successfull KH-9.

Only a game changing tech as the KH-11 CCD did managed to turn the tide.
« Last Edit: 10/28/2021 04:42 pm by libra »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #50 on: 10/28/2021 12:39 pm »
Sooo... 8000 pictures taken over an average 10 life duration: that's 800 pictures per day.

Which is SIXTEEN TIMES more than SAMOS E-2 (which never worked, actually: poor thing launched once, and exploded with its Atlas booster).

I'm not going to think too much about your math here, but I will add something to this. Once they got to the two Satellite Recovery Vehicle (SRV) KH-4A version, they put the spacecraft into "Zombie Mode" after the first camera operation and ejection of the first SRV, then woke it up to operate the cameras again to fill up the second SRV and then end the mission. Generally speaking, I think they did about 4 days of camera operations during a 12-14-day mission. So if you only counted the days they were operating the camera, the per-day photo count would be much higher.

Plus, of course, each CORONA photo covered far more territory than a Samos image.

[more in later posts]

Offline libra

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #51 on: 10/28/2021 12:57 pm »
Sure. It was basic calculations with the numbers I could find. Wouldn't be surprised if more refined numbers were even more... humiliating for SAMOS.
I knew film-buckets were superiors to early film-readout, just wanted to guess by how many orders of magnitude. Well... it was a gulf. A big gulf: dozens vs hundreds if not thousands pictures.

No surprise they dumped SAMOS the way they dumped it. Plus the reliability issues. And lower ground resolution. And exploding Atlases.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #52 on: 10/28/2021 01:10 pm »
Now I wanted to know why film readout (SAMOS E-1, E-2 and their "cousin" Lunar Orbiter) never stood a chance against plain old film buckets (that is: before the KH-11 and its CCD completely changed the game, but that's a very different story)

Perry history told me SAMOS E-2 hoped to beam a maximum of 50 pictures a day... in a future, optimized variant that never happened.

Lunar Orbiter 5 took 216 pictures in 12 days: 18 pictures a day.

Lunar Orbiter 4 took 199 pictures in 14 days: a bit more than 14 per day (14*14 = 196).

A rather comparable number with E-2 - which makes some sense, as they were related through Kodak and Bimat.



A few additional comments. I'm musing here, not trying to make any particular points.

We don't know the planned lifetime of the Samos E-2. If it is listed anywhere in the Perry history or some other doc, let me know. My guess is that the initial goal was about 30 days, with an eventual goal being about 60 days. (Did it even have solar panels? I cannot remember off the top of my head.) I do believe that in order to get the kind of coverage they wanted, they would have to launch a lot of them. Then again, they started launching one CORONA per month, so one Samos per month is not crazy.

What was the field of view of the Samos E-2? How much territory could it cover in a single image? Again, I think this is discussed in documents, but I don't know it off the top of my head.

I don't think that the concept of operations for Samos was ever really defined. How were they going to use it? Going after known targets? Searching randomly throughout the Soviet Union looking for new developments? The limited field of view would have made it poor for the latter approach, so they really would have been restricted in how they used it, probably going after known facilities and then doing directed searches like following railroad lines looking for signs of military construction (which is what the U-2 did, except with a pilot who could decide whether to use film to take a photo of something interesting).

Samos remains somewhat of an enigma for a number of reasons, including the fact that the readout systems got canceled before the Air Force could figure out how they were going to use them operationally. They were learning as they went along, and what they learned was that the system was going to be too limited to be worth the cost.



Offline libra

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #53 on: 10/29/2021 06:56 pm »
Found this in Perry history.

Seems some important people back then did the maths, too - and concluded readout was hopelessly hopeless. 
« Last Edit: 10/29/2021 06:58 pm by libra »

Online LittleBird

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #54 on: 10/29/2021 07:02 pm »
What I've always wondered is how Alistair Mclean already knew that readout wouldn't work with current tech when he wrote Ice Station  Zebra (1963) [below], and yet ostensibly well connected observers like Klass and others thought much later that it did ...

[PS  I can't get this preview to appear right way up, though file itself is OK now afaik. Sorry. Quote is "Radio transmission is no good. There's far too much quality and detail lost in the process [...] So they had to have the actual films" [my emphasis]. Also I should have spelt his name MacLean.]
« Last Edit: 10/30/2021 06:11 am by LittleBird »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #55 on: 10/29/2021 07:50 pm »
I think that Alistair Mclean had some people who told him stuff. Drinking buddies and so on. The late Jeff Richelson was at one time working on an article about classified programs that showed up in spy novels. I don't know if he ever published it, but he discovered that "CORONA" appeared in a novel. Obviously somebody had talked.

Online LittleBird

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #56 on: 10/30/2021 06:40 am »
Found this in Perry history.


i.e. https://www.nro.gov/Portals/65/documents/foia/docs/HOSR/SC-2017-00006b.pdf, thanks for the pointer. Looking at the CSNR version on Google books I see "Anatomy of Readout"  was a 1962 document. Maybe one for someone to FOIA ? Comparison between this and 1968 Dirks "blue blook" would be fascinating.

Quote
Seems some important people back then did the maths, too - and concluded readout was hopelessly hopeless.

They'd been "doing the maths" since RAND's Project Feedback in in the early 50s and quite possibly before. But the vision of Feedback and similar studies (online at RAND nowadays) was real time or quasi real time, you'd expect people not to give that up lightly.

Lunar Orbiter is to me an interesting example of why no solution was automatically good or bad, it was all about the possible numbers versus the needs of a  specific application. Low orbit, no clouds and a long time to transmit evidently offset being a long way from home. But you still had to trust that the spacecraft would live long enough to send the pictures back ... and 66 was already very different from 56 in this regard ...

« Last Edit: 10/30/2021 06:42 am by LittleBird »

Online LittleBird

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #57 on: 10/30/2021 10:39 am »
I think that Alistair Mclean had some people who told him stuff. Drinking buddies and so on. 

Interesting to see Perkin-Elmer's ground based tracking telescope turning up on previous page (second pic is via Jet Propulsion magazine, 1956 at https://arc.aiaa.org/doi/pdf/10.2514/8.6889 )
« Last Edit: 10/30/2021 10:43 am by LittleBird »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #58 on: 10/30/2021 01:10 pm »
I am working on an article on the KH-6 LANYARD satellite. I wrote a lengthy article about it back in the 1990s which is still the most detailed account to date, but I have a more comprehensive account written and I just need to polish it up.

One side story to this is the "P Camera Experiment," (for "Purcell Camera") that flew in 1963. There is only very limited information on this experiment, which did not work. This is from "The GAMBIT Story." I also have an account from the mission. It's too bad we don't have a drawing or photo of the actual camera, which was a folded optics system.

Online edkyle99

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Re: CORONA Reconnaissance Satellite
« Reply #59 on: 10/30/2021 02:55 pm »
Film readout also had the limit of film itself, which had mass and volume and which provided a limited number of images that could then be scanned (though readout time seemed the real limit back then).  The self-developing film probably weighed more than Corona film, etc.

 - Ed Kyle
« Last Edit: 10/30/2021 02:56 pm by edkyle99 »

 

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