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KH-4B Corona satellite

Recovery of Discoverer 14 return capsule (typical for the Corona series)

The Corona program was a series of American strategic reconnaissance satellites produced and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency Directorate of Science & Technology with substantial assistance from the U.S. Air Force. The Corona satellites were used for photographic surveillance of the Soviet Union (USSR), the People's Republic of China, and other areas beginning in June 1959 and ending in May 1972. The name of this program is sometimes seen as "CORONA", but its actual name "Corona" was a codeword, not an acronym.

The Corona satellites were designated KH-1, KH-2, KH-3, KH-4, KH-4A and KH-4B. KH stood for "Key Hole" or "Keyhole" (Code number 1010),[1] with the name being an analogy to the act of spying into a person's room by peering through their door's keyhole. The incrementing number indicated changes in the surveillance instrumentation, such as the change from single-panoramic to double-panoramic cameras. The "KH" naming system was first used in 1962 with KH-4 and the earlier numbers were retroactively applied. There were 144 Corona satellites launched, of which 102 returned usable photographs.

History and costs

Corona started under the name "Discoverer" as part of the WS-117L satellite reconnaissance and protection program of the US Air Force in 1956. The United States Air Force credits the Onizuka Air Force Station as being the "birthplace of the Corona program."[2] In May 1958, the Department of Defense directed the transfer of the WS-117L program to Advanced Research Projects Agency. In FY1958, WS-117L was funded by the AF at a level of US$108.2 million (inflation adjusted US$0.88 billion in 2022). For Discoverer, the Air Force and ARPA spent a combined sum of US$132.3 million in FY1959 (inflation adjusted US$1.07 billion in 2022) and US$101.2 million in FY1960 (inflation adjusted US$0.81 billion in 2022).[3]

The Corona project was pushed forward rapidly following the shooting down of a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union in May 1960.[citation needed]


Diagram of "J-1" type stereo/panoramic constantly rotating Corona reconnaissance satellite camera system used on KH-4A missions from 1963 to 1969.

The Corona satellites used special 70 millimeter film with a 24-inch (610 mm) focal length camera.[4] Manufactured by Eastman Kodak, the film was initially 0.0003 inches (7.6 µm) thick, with a resolution of 170 lines per 0.04 inches (1.0 mm) of film.[5][6] The contrast was 2-to-1.[5] (By comparison, the best aerial photography film produced in World War II could produce just 50 lines per 0.04 inches (1.0 mm) of film.)[5] The acetate-based film was later replaced with a polyester-based film stock that was more durable in earth orbit.[7] The amount of film carried by the satellites varied over time. Initially, each satellite carried 8,000 feet (2,400 m) of film for each camera, for a total of 16,000 feet (4,900 m) of film.[5] But a reduction in the thickness of the film stock allowed more film to be carried.[7] The amount of film carried was doubled (both by reductions in film thickness and by the addition of additional film capsules) by the time the fifth generation of the satellite (the KH-5s) was built, to 16,000 feet (4,900 m) of film for each camera for a total of 32,000 feet (9,800 m) of film.[8] Most of the film shot was black and white. Infrared film was used on mission 1104, and color film on missions 1105 and 1008. Color film proved to have lower resolution, however, and was never used again.[9]

The cameras were manufactured by the Itek Corporation.[10] A 12-inch (30 cm), f/5 triplet lens was designed for the cameras.[11] Each lens was 7 inches (18 cm) in diameter.[5] They were quite similar to the Tessar lenses developed in Germany by Zeiss.[12] The cameras themselves were initially 5 feet (1.5 m) long, but later extended to 9 feet (2.7 m) in length.[13] Beginning with the KH-4 satellites, these lenses were replaced with Petzval f/3.5 lens.[9] The lenses were panoramic, and moved through a 70° arc perpendicular to the direction of the orbit.[5] A panoramic lens was chosen because it could obtain a wider image. Although the best resolution was only obtained in the center of the image, this could be overcome by having the camera sweep automatically ("reciprocate") back and forth across 70° of arc.[14] The lens on the camera was constantly rotating, to counteract the blurring effect of the satellite moving over the planet.[9]

The first Corona satellites had a single camera, but a two-camera system was quickly implemented.[15] The front camera was tilted 15° forward, and the rear camera tilted 15° aft, so that a stereoscopic image could be obtained.[5] Later in the program, the satellite employed three cameras.[15] The third camera was employed to take "index" photographs of the objects being stereographically filmed.[16] The J-3 camera system, first deployed in 1967, placed the camera in a drum. This "rotator camera" (or drum) moved back and forth, eliminating the need to move the camera itself on a reciprocating mechanism.[17] The drum permitted the use of up to two filters and as many as four different exposure slits, greatly improving the variability of images that Corona could take.[18] The first cameras could resolve images on the ground down to 40 feet (12 m) in diameter. Improvements in the imaging system were rapid, and the KH-3 missions could see objects 10 feet (3.0 m) in diameter. Later missions would be able to resolve objects just 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter.[19] A single mission was completed with a 1 foot (0.30 m) resolution but the limited field of view was determined to be detrimental to the mission.[citation needed] 3 feet (0.91 m) resolution was found to be the optimum resolution for quality of image and field of view.

The initial Corona missions suffered from mysterious border fogging and bright streaks which appeared irregularly on the returned film. Eventually, a team of scientists and engineers from the project and from academia (among them Luis Alvarez, Sidney Beldner, Malvin Ruderman, and Sidney Drell) determined that electrostatic discharges (called corona discharges) caused by some of the components of the cameras were exposing the film.[20][21] Corrective measures included better grounding of the components, improved film rollers that did not generate static electricity, improved temperature controls, and a cleaner internal environment.[21] Although improvements were made to reduce the corona, the final solution was to load the film canisters with a full load of film, feed the unexposed film through the camera onto the take-up reel with no exposure. This unexposed film was then processed and inspected for corona. If none was found or the corona observed was within acceptable levels, the canisters were certified for use and loaded with fresh film for a launch mission.

Lockheed's covert "advanced projects" facility at Hiller Aircraft in Menlo Park, California.

The first satellites in the program orbited at altitudes 100 miles (160 km) above the surface of the Earth, although later missions orbited even lower at 75 miles (121 km)).[9] Originally, Corona satellites were designed to spin along their main axis so that the satellite would remain stable. Cameras would take photographs only when pointed at the Earth. The Itek camera company, however, proposed to stabilize the satellite along all three axes—keeping the cameras permanently pointed at the earth.[12] Beginning with the KH-3 version of the satellite, a horizon camera took images of several key stars.[16] A sensor used the satellite's side thruster rockets to align the rocket with these "index stars," so that it was correctly aligned with the Earth and the cameras pointed in the right direction.[22] Beginning in 1967, two horizon cameras were used. This system was known as the Dual Improved Stellar Index Camera (DISIC).[18] Film was retrieved from orbit via a reentry capsule (nicknamed "film bucket"), designed by General Electric, which separated from the satellite and fell to earth.[23] After the fierce heat of reentry was over, the heat shield surrounding the vehicle was jettisoned at 60,000 feet (18 km) and parachutes deployed.[24] The capsule was intended to be caught in mid-air by a passing airplane[25] towing an airborne claw which would then winch it aboard, or it could land at sea.[26] A salt plug in the base would dissolve after two days, allowing the capsule to sink if it was not picked up by the United States Navy.[27] After Reuters reported on a reentry vehicle's accidental landing and discovery by Venezuelan farmers in mid-1964, capsules were no longer labeled "Secret" but offered a reward in eight languages for their return to the United States.[28] Beginning with flight number 69, a two-capsule system was employed.[20] This also allowed the satellite to go into passive (or "zombie") mode, shutting down for as many as 21 days before taking images again.[8] Beginning in 1963, another improvement was "Lifeboat", a battery-powered system that allowed for ejection and recovery of the capsule in case power failed.[29][30] The film was processed at Eastman Kodak's Hawkeye facility in Rochester, New York.[31]

Coronas were launched by a Thor-Agena rocket, which used a Thor first stage and an Agena booster (which served as the second stage of the rocket lifting the Corona into orbit).[32] With the implementation of the J-1 camera system in 1963, a Thorad rocket was used for the first stage, leading to large improvements in launch reliability.[29] Later launches were made using the Thrust Augmented Thor (TAT).[33] Maneuvering rockets were also added to the satellite beginning in 1963. These were different from the attitude stabilizing thrusters which had been incorporated from the beginning of the program. Corona orbited in very low orbits to enhance resolution of its camera system. But at perigee (the lowest point in the orbit), Corona endured drag from the Earth's atmosphere. In time, this could cause its orbit to decay and force the satellite to re-enter the atmosphere prematurely. The new maneuvering rockets were designed to boost Corona into a higher orbit, and lengthen the mission time even if low perigees were used.[34] For use during unexpected crises, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) kept a Corona in "R-7" status, meaning ready for launch in seven days. By summer 1965 NRO was able to maintain Corona for launch within one day.[35]

The procurement and maintenance of the Corona satellites was managed by the Central Intelligence Agency, which used cover arrangements lasting from April 1958 to 1969 to get access to the Palo Alto plant of the Hiller Helicopter Corporation for the production.[36] At this facility, the rocket's second stage Agena, the cameras, film cassettes, and reentry capsule were assembled and tested before shipment to Vandenberg Air Force Base.[37] In 1969, assembly duties were relocated to the Lockheed facilities in Sunnyvale, California.[38] (The NRO was worried that, as Corona was phased out, skilled technicians worried about their jobs would quit the program—leaving Corona without staff. The move to Sunnyvale ensured that enough skilled staff would be available.)

The decisions regarding what to photograph were made by the Corona Target Program. Corona satellites were placed into near-polar orbits.[19] This software, run by an on-board computer, was programmed to operate the cameras based on the intelligence targets to be imaged, the weather, the satellite's operational status, and what images the cameras had already captured.[39] Ground control for Corona satellites was initially conduct from Stanford Industrial Park, an industrial park on Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, California. It was later moved to Sunnyvale Air Force Base near Sunnyvale, California.[40]

Corona launches with system types

Below is a list of Corona launches, as compiled by the United States Geological Survey.[41] This table lists government's designation of each type of satellite (C, C-prime, J-1, etc.), the resolution of the camera, and a description of the camera system.

Time period No. Nickname Resolution Notes Number
Jun 1959 – Sep 1960 KH-1 "Corona", C 7.5 m First series of American imaging spy satellites. Each satellite carried a single panoramic camera and a single return vehicle. 10 systems; 1 recovery.
Oct 1960 – Oct 1961 KH-2 Corona′, C′ (or "C-prime")* 7.5 m Single panoramic camera and a single return vehicle. 7 systems; 4 recoveries.
Aug 1961 – Jan 1962 KH-3 Corona‴, C‴ (or "C-triple-prime")* 7.5 m Single panoramic camera and a single return vehicle. 9 systems; 5 recoveries.
Feb 1962 – Dec 1963 KH-4 Corona-M, Mural 7.5 m Film return. Two panoramic cameras. 26 systems; 20 recoveries.
Aug 1963 – Oct 1969 KH-4A Corona J-1 2.75 m Film return with two reentry vehicles and two panoramic cameras. Large volume of imagery. 52 systems; 94 recoveries.
Sep 1967 – May 1972 KH-4B Corona J-3 1.8 m Film return with two reentry vehicles and two panoramic rotator cameras. 17 systems; 32 recoveries.
Feb 1961 – Aug 1964 KH-5 Argon 140 m Low-resolution mapping missions; single frame camera. 12 systems; 5 recoveries.
Mar 1963 – July 1963 KH-6 Lanyard 1.8 m Experimental camera in a short-lived program. 3 systems; 2 recoveries.

*(The stray "quote marks" are the original designations of the first three generations of cameras.)


Corona image of The Pentagon, 25 Sep 1967

Corona film bucket payload

The first dozen or more Corona satellites and their launches were cloaked with disinformation as being part of a space technology development program called the Discoverer program. The first test launches for the Corona/Discoverer were carried out early in 1959. The capsule of Discoverer 2 might have been recovered by the Soviets, after landing on Spitsbergen Island.[37] The first Corona launch containing a camera was carried out in June 1959 with the cover name Discoverer 4. This was a 750 kilogram satellite launched by a Thor-Agena rocket.

The return capsule of the Discoverer 13 mission, which launched August 10, 1960, was successfully recovered the next day.[42] This was the first time that any object had been recovered successfully from orbit. After the mission of Discoverer 14, launched on August 18, 1960, its film bucket was successfully retrieved two days later by a C-119 Flying Boxcar transport plane. This was the first successful return of photographic film from orbit. In comparison, Sputnik 5 was launched into orbit on August 19, 1960, one day after the launch of Discoverer 14. Sputnik 5 was a biosatellite that took into orbit the two Soviet space dogs, Belka and Strelka, and then safely returned them to the Earth .[43]

At least two launches of Discoverers were used to test satellites for the Missile Defense Alarm System (MIDAS), an early missile-launch-detection program that used infrared cameras to detect the heat signature of rockets launching to orbit.[citation needed]

The Corona film bucket was later adapted for the KH-7 GAMBIT satellite, which took higher resolution photos.

The last launch under the Discoverer cover name was Discoverer 38 on February 26, 1962. Its bucket was successfully recovered in midair during the 65th orbit (the 13th recovery of a bucket; the ninth one in midair).[44] Following this last use of the Discoverer name, the remaining launches of Corona satellites were entirely top secret. The last Corona launch was on May 25, 1972. The project was abandoned after a Soviet Navy submarine was detected waiting beneath a Corona mid-air retrieval zone in the Pacific Ocean. The best sequence of Corona missions was from 1966 to 1971, when there were 32 consecutive successful missions, including film recoveries.

Corona film recovery maneuver

An alternative program to the Corona program was named SAMOS. This program included several types of satellite which used a different photographic method. This involved capturing an image on photographic film, developing the film on board the satellite and then scanning the image electronically. The image was then transmitted via telemetry to ground stations. The Samos E-1 and E-2 satellite programs used this system, but they were not able to take very many pictures and then relay them to the ground stations each day. Two later versions of the Samos program, such as the E-5 and the E-6, used the bucket-return approach, but neither of these programs carried out any successful missions.

ELINT subsatellites

Nine of the KH-4A and KH-4B missions included ELINT subsatellites, which were launched into a higher orbit.[45][46]


The Corona program was officially classified top secret until 1992. Then, on February 22, 1995, the photos taken by the Corona satellites, and also by two contemporary programs (Argon and KH-6 Lanyard) were declassified under an Executive Order signed by President Bill Clinton.[47] The further review by photo experts of the "obsolete broad-area film-return systems other than Corona" mandated by President Clinton's order led to the declassification in 2002 of the photos from the KH-7 and the KH-9 low-resolution cameras.[48] The declassified imagery has since been used by a team of scientists from the Australian National University to locate and explore ancient habitation sites, pottery factories, megalithic tombs, and Palaeolithic archaeological remains in northern Syria.[49][50] Similarly, scientists at Harvard have used the imagery to identify prehistoric traveling routes in Mesopotamia.[51][52]

The "CORONA Digital Atlas of the Middle East Project" hosts a large number of KH-4B imagery where users can view and download spatially corrected images.


Mission No. Cover Name Launch Date NSSDC ID No. Alt. Name Camera Notes
R&D Discoverer 21 Jan 1959 1959-E01 1959-E01 none Mission Failed. Failed to achieve orbit
R&D Discoverer 1 28 Feb 1959 1959-002A 1959 BET none First object in polar orbit
R&D Discoverer 2 13 Apr 1959 1959-003A 1959 GAM none First three-axis stabilized satellite; capsule recovery failed
R&D Discoverer 3 03 Jun 1959 DISCOV3 1959-F02 none Mission failed. Failed to achieve orbit
9001 Discoverer 4 25 Jun 1959 DISC4 1959-U01 KH-1 Mission failed. Failed to achieve orbit.
9002 Discoverer 5 13 Aug 1959 1959-005A 1959 EPS 1 KH-1 Mission failed. Power supply failure. No recovery.
9003 Discoverer 6 19 Aug 1959 1959-006A 1959 ZET KH-1 Mission failed. Retro rockets malfunctioned negating recovery.
9004 Discoverer 7 07 Nov 1959 1959-010A 1959 KAP KH-1 Mission failed. Failed to achieve orbit.
9005 Discoverer 8 20 Nov 1959 1959-011A 1959 LAM KH-1 Mission failed. Eccentric orbit negating recovery.
9006 Discoverer 9 04 Feb 1960 DiSC9 1960-F01 KH-1 Mission failed. Failed to achieve orbit.
9007 Discoverer 10 19 Feb 1960 DISC10 1960-F02 KH-1 Mission failed. Destroyed just after launch due to erratic attitude.
9008 Discoverer 11 15 Apr 1960 1960-004A 1960 DEL KH-1 Mission failed. Attitude control system malfunctioned.
R&D Discoverer 12 29 Jun 1960 DISC12 1960-F08 none Failed to orbit
R&D Discoverer 13 10 Aug 1960 1960-008A 1960 THE none Tested capsule recovery system; first successful capture.
9009 Discoverer 14 18 Aug 1960 1960-010A 1960 KAP KH-1 First successful recovery of IMINT from space. Cameras operated satisfactorily.
9010 Discoverer 15 13 Sep 1960 1960-012A 1960 MU KH-1 Mission failed. Attained orbit successfully. Capsule sank prior to retrieval.
9011 Discoverer 16 26 Oct 1960 1960-F15 1960-F15 KH-2 Mission failed. Satellite failed to separate from booster. Failed to achieve orbit.
9012 Discoverer 17 12 Nov 1960 1960-015A 1960 OMI KH-2 Mission failed. Obtained orbit successfully. Film separated before any camera operation leaving only 1.7 ft (0.52 m) of film in capsule.
9013 Discoverer 18 07 Dec 1960 1960-018A 1960 SIG KH-2 First successful mission employing KH-2 camera system.
RM-1 Discoverer 19 20 Dec 1960 1960-019A 1960 TAU none Test of Midas missile-detection system
9014A Discoverer 20 17 Feb 1961 1961-005A 1961 EPS 1 KH-5 See KH-5
RM-2 Discoverer 21 18 Feb 1961 1961-006A 1961 ZET none Test of restartable rocket engine
9015 Discoverer 22 30 Mar 1961 DISC22 1961-F02 KH-2 Mission failed. Second stage failed to obtain orbital velocity.
9016A Discoverer 23 08 Apr 1961 1961-011A 1961 LAM 1 KH-5 See KH-5
9018A Discoverer 24 16 Jun 1961 DISC24 1961-F05 KH-5 See KH-5
9017 Discoverer 25 16 Jun 1961 1961-014A 1961 XI 1 KH-2 Capsule recovered from water on orbit 32. Streaks throughout film.
9019 Discoverer 26 07 Jul 1961 1961-016A 1961 PI KH-2 Main camera malfunctioned on pass 22.
9020A Discoverer 27 21 Jul 1961 DISC27 1961-F07 KH-5 See KH-5
9021 Discoverer 28 03 Aug 1961 DISC28 1961-F08 KH-2 Mission failed. No orbit. Satellite guidance system failed.
9022 Discoverer 30 12 Sep 1961 1961-024A 1961 OME 1 KH-3 Best mission to date. Same out-of-focus condition as in 9023.
9023 Discoverer 29 30 Aug 1961 1961-023A 1961 PSI KH-3 First use of KH-3 camera system. All frames out of focus.
9024 Discoverer 31 17 Sep 1961 1961-026A 1961 A BET KH-3 Mission failed. Power failure and loss of control gas on orbit 33. Capsule was not recovered.
9025 Discoverer 32 13 Oct 1961 1961-027A 1961 A GAM 1 KH-3 Capsule recovered on orbit 18. 96% of film out of focus.
9026 Discoverer 33 23 Oct 1961 DISC33 1961-F10 KH-3 Mission failed. Satellite failed to separate from Thor booster. No orbit.
9027 Discoverer 34 05 Nov 1961 1961-029A 1961 A EPS 1 KH-3 Mission failed. Improper launch angle resulted in extreme orbit. Gas valve failed
9028 Discoverer 35 15 Nov 1961 1961-030A 1961 A ZET 1 KH-3 All cameras operated satisfactorily. Grainy emulsion noted.
9029 Discoverer 36 12 Dec 1961 1961-034A 1961 A KAP 1 KH-3 Best mission to date. Launch carried OSCAR 1 to orbit.
9030 Discoverer 37 13 Jan 1962 DISC37 1962-F01 KH-3 Mission failed. No orbit.
9031 Discoverer 38 27 Feb 1962 1962-005A 1962 EPS 1 KH-4 First mission of the KH-4 series. Much of film slightly out of focus.
9032 Discoverer 39 18 Apr 1962 1962-011A 1962 LAM 1 KH-4 Best mission to date.
9033 FTV 1125 28 Apr 1962 1962-017A 1962 RHO 1 KH-4 Mission failed. Parachute ejector squibs holding parachute container cover failed to fire. No recovery.
9034A FTV 1126 15 May 1962 1962-018A 1962 SIG 1 KH-5 See KH-5
9035 FTV 1128 30 May 1962 1962-021A 1962 PHI 1 KH-4 Slight corona static on film.
9036 FTV 1127 02 Jun 1962 1962-022A 1962 CHI 1 KH-4 Mission failed. During air catch. Launch carried OSCAR 2 to orbit.
9037 FTV 1129 23 Jun 1962 1962-026A 1962 A BET KH-4 Corona static occurs on some film.
9038 FTV 1151 28 Jun 1962 1962-027A 1962 A GAM KH-4 Severe corona static.
9039 FTV 1130 21 Jul 1962 1962-031A 1962 A ETA KH-4 Aborted after 6 photo passes. Heavy corona and radiation fog.
9040 FTV 1131 28 Jul 1962 1962-032A 1962 A THE KH-4 No filters on slave horizon cameras. Heavy corona and radiation fog.
9041 FTV 1152 02 Aug 1962 1962-034A 1962 A KAP 1 KH-4 Severe corona and radiation fog.
9042A FTV 1132 01 Sep 1962 1962-044A 1962 A UPS KH-5 See KH-5
9043 FTV 1133 17 Sep 1962 1962-046A 1962 A CHI KH-4 placed in highly eccentric orbit (207 km x 670 km), caspule called down after one day, film suffered severe radiation fog due to SAA crossing[53][54][55]
9044 FTV 1153 29 Aug 1962 1962-042A 1962 A SIG KH-4 Erratic vehicle attitude. Radiation fog minimal.
9045 FTV 1154 29 Sep 1962 1962-050A 1962 B BET KH-4 First use of stellar camera
9046A FTV 1134 09 Oct 1962 1962-053A 1962 B EPS KH-5 See KH-5
9047 FTV 1136 05 Nov 1962 1962-063A 1962 B OMI KH-4 Camera door malfunctioned
9048 FTV 1135 24 Nov 1962 1962-065A 1962 B RHO KH-4 Some film exposed through base.
9049 FTV 1155 04 Dec 1962 1962-066A 1962 B SIG KH-4 Mission failed. During air catch chute tore
9050 FTV 1156 14 Dec 1962 1962-069A 1962 B PHI KH-4 Best mission to date.
9051 OPS 0048 07 Jan 1963 1963-002A 1963-002A KH-4 Erratic vehicle attitude. Frame ephemeris not created.
9052 OPS 0583 28 Feb 1963 1963-F02 1963-F02 KH-4 Mission failed. Destroyed by range safety officer
9053 OPS 0720 01 Apr 1963 1963-007A 1963-007A KH-4 Best imagery to date.
9054 OPS 0954 12 Jun 1963 1963-019A 1963-019A KH-4 Some imagery seriously affected by corona.
9055A OPS 1008 26 Apr 1963 1963-F07 1963-F07 KH-5 See KH-5
9056 OPS 0999 26 Jun 1963 1963-025A 1963-025A KH-4 Experimental camera carried. Film affected by light leaks.
9057 OPS 1266 19 Jul 1963 1963-029A 1963-029A KH-4 Best mission to date.
9058A OPS 1561 29 Aug 1963 1963-035A 1963-035A KH-5 See KH-5
9059A OPS 2437 29 Oct 1963 1963-042A 1963-042A KH-5 See KH-5
9060 OPS 2268 09 Nov 1963 1963-F14 1963-F14 KH-4 Mission failed. No orbit.
9061 OPS 2260 27 Nov 1963 1963-048A 1963-048A KH-4 Mission failed. Return capsule separated from satellite but remained in orbit.
9062 OPS 1388 21 Dec 1963 1963-055A 1963-055A KH-4 Corona static fogged much of film.
9065A OPS 2739 21 Aug 1964 1964-048A 1964-048A KH-5 See KH-5
9066A OPS 3236 13 Jun 1964 1964-030A 1964-030A KH-5 See KH-5
1001 OPS 1419 24 Aug 1963 1963-034A 1963-034A KH-4A First mission of KH-4A. Some film was fogged. Two buckets but 1001-2 was never recovered.
1002 OPS 1353 23 Sep 1963 1963-037A 1963-037A KH-4A Severe light leaks
1003 OPS 3467 24 Mar 1964 1964-F04 1964-F04 KH-4A Mission failed. Guidance system failed. No orbit.
1004 OPS 3444 15 Feb 1964 1964-008A 1964-008A KH-4A Main cameras operated satisfactorily. Minor degradations due to static and light leaks.
1005 OPS 2921 27 Apr 1964 1964-022A 1964-022A KH-4A Mission failed. Recovery vehicle impacted in Venezuela.
1006 OPS 3483 04 Jun 1964 1964-027A 1964-027A KH-4A Highest quality imagery attained to date from the KH-4 system.
1007 OPS 3754 19 Jun 1964 1964-032A 1964-032A KH-4A Out-of-focus area on some film.
1008 OPS 3491 10 Jun 1964 1964-037A 1964-037A KH-4A Cameras operated satisfactorily
1009 OPS 3042 05 Aug 1964 1964-043A 1964-043A KH-4A Cameras operated successfully.
1010 OPS 3497 14 Sep 1964 1964-056A 1964-056A KH-4A Small out of focus areas on both cameras at random times throughout the mission.
1011 OPS 3333 05 Oct 1964 1964-061A 1964-061A KH-4A Primary mode of recovery failed on second portion of the mission (1011-2). Small out of focus areas present at random on both cameras.
1012 OPS 3559 17 Oct 1964 1964-067A 1964-067A KH-4A Vehicle attitude became erratic on the second portion of the mission necessitating an early recovery.
1013 OPS 5434 02 Nov 1964 1964-071A 1964-071A KH-4A Program anomaly occurred immediately after launch when both cameras operated for 417 frames. Main cameras ceased operation on rev 52D of first portion of mission negating second portion. About 65% of aft camera film is out of focus.
1014 OPS 3360 18 Nov 1964 1964-075A 1964-075A KH-4A Cameras operated successfully.
1015 OPS 3358 19 Dec 1964 1964-085A 1964-085A KH-4A Discrepancies in planned and actual coverage due to telemetry problems during the first 6 revolutions. Small out-of-focus areas on film from aft camera.
1016 OPS 3928 15 Jan 1965 1965-002A 1965-002A KH-4A Smearing of highly reflective images due to reflections within camera.
1017 OPS 4782 25 Feb 1965 1965-013A 1965-013A KH-4A Capping shutter malfunction occurred during last 5 passes of mission.
1018 OPS 4803 25 Mar 1965 1965-026A 1965-026A KH-4A Cameras operated successfully. First KH-4A reconnaissance system to be launched into a retrograde orbit.
1019 OPS 5023 29 Apr 1965 1965-033A 1965-033A KH-4A Cameras operated successfully. Malfunction in recovery mode on 1019-2 negated recovery.
1020 OPS 8425 09 Jun 1965 1965-045A 1965-045A KH-4A All cameras operated satisfactorily. Erratic attitude caused an early recovery after the second day of 1020-2.
1021 OPS 8431 18 May 1965 1965-037A 1965-037A KH-4A Aft camera ceased operation on pass 102.
1022 OPS 5543 19 Jun 1965 1965-057A 1965-057A KH-4A All cameras operated satisfactorily.
1023 OPS 7208 17 Aug 1965 1965-067A 1965-067A KH-4A Program anomaly caused the fore camera to cease operation during revolutions 103-132.
1024 OPS 7221 22 Sep 1965 1965-074A 1965-074A KH-4A All cameras operated satisfactorily. Cameras not operated on passes 88D-93D.
1025 OPS 5325 05 Oct 1965 1965-079A 1965-079A KH-4A Main cameras operated satisfactorily.
1026 OPS 2155 28 Oct 1965 1965-086A 1965-086A KH-4A All cameras operated satisfactorily.
1027 OPS 7249 09 Dec 1965 1965-102A 1965-102A KH-4A Erratic attitude necessitated recovery after two days of operation. All cameras operated satisfactorily.
1028 OPS 4639 24 Dec 1965 1965-110A 1965-110A KH-4A Cameras operated satisfactorily.
1029 OPS 7291 02 Feb 1966 1966-007A 1966-007A KH-4A Both panoramic cameras were operational throughout.
1030 OPS 3488 09 Mar 1966 1966-018A 1966-018A KH-4A All cameras operated satisfactorily.
1031 OPS 1612 07 Apr 1966 1966-029A 1966-029A KH-4A The aft-looking camera malfunctioned after the recovery of bucket 1. No material was received in bucket 2 (1031-2).
1032 OPS 1508 3 May 1966 1966-F05A 1966-F05 KH-4A Mission failed. Vehicle failed to achieve orbit.
1033 OPS 1778 24 May 1966 1966-042A 1966-042A KH-4A The stellar camera shutter of bucket 2 remained open for approximately 200 frames.
1034 OPS 1599 21 Jun 1966 1966-055A 1966-055A KH-4A Failure of velocity altitude programmer produced poor imagery after revolution 5.
1035 OPS 1703 20 Sep 1966 1966-085A 1966-085A KH-4A All cameras operated satisfactorily. First mission flown with pan geometry modification.
1036 OPS 1545 09 Aug 1966 1966-072A 1966-072A KH-4A All cameras operated satisfactorily.
1037 OPS 1866 08 Nov 1966 1966-102A 1966-102A KH-4A Second pan geometry mission. Higher than normal base plus fog encountered on both main camera records.
1038 OPS 1664 14 Jan 1967 1967-002A 1967-002A KH-4A Fair image quality.
1039 OPS 4750 22 Feb 1967 1967-015A 1967-015A KH-4A Normal KH-4 mission. Light from horizon camera on both main camera records during 1039-1.
1040 OPS 4779 30 Mar 1967 1967-029A 1967-029A KH-4A Satellite flown nose first.
1041 OPS 4696 9 May 1967 1967-043A 1967-043A KH-4A Due to the failure of the booster cut-off switch, the satellite went into a highly eccentric orbit. There was significant image degradation.
1042 OPS 3559 16 Jun 1967 1967-062A 1967-062A KH-4A Small out-of-focus area in forward camera of 1042-1.
1043 OPS 4827 07 Aug 1967 1967-076A 1967-076A KH-4A Forward camera film came out of the rails on pass 230D. Film degraded past this point.
1044 OPS 0562 02 Nov 1967 1967-109A 1967-109A KH-4A All cameras operated fine.
1045 OPS 2243 24 Jan 1968 1968-008A 1968-008A KH-4A All cameras operated satisfactorily.
1046 OPS 4849 14 Mar 1968 1968-020A 1968-020A KH-4A Image quality good for 1046-1 and fair for 1046-2.
1047 OPS 5343 20 Jun 1968 1968-052A 1968-052A KH-4A Out-of-focus imagery is present on both main camera records.
1048 OPS 0165 18 Sep 1968 1968-078A 1968-078A KH-4A Film in the forward camera separated and camera failed on mission 1048-2
1049 OPS 4740 12 Dec 1968 1968-112A 1968-112A KH-4A Degraded film
1050 OPS 3722 19 Mar 1969 1969-026A 1969-026A KH-4A Due to abnormal rotational rates after revolution 22
1051 OPS 1101 2 May 1969 1969-041A 1969-041A KH-4A Imagery of both pan camera records is soft and lacks crispness and edge sharpness.
1052 OPS 3531 22 Sep 1969 1969-079A 1969-079A KH-4A Last of the KH-4A missions
1101 OPS 5089 15 Sep 1967 1967-087A 1967-087A KH-4B First mission of the KH-4B series. Best film to date.
1102 OPS 1001 09 Dec 1967 1967-122A 1967-122A KH-4B Noticeable image smear for forward camera
1103 OPS 1419 1 May 1968 1968-039A 1968-039B KH-4B Out-of-focus imagery is present on both main camera records.
1104 OPS 5955 07 Aug 1968 1968-065A 1968-065A KH-4B Best imagery to date on any KH-4 systems. Bicolor and color infrared experiments were conducted on this mission, including SO-180 IR camouflage detection film.[56]
1105 OPS 1315 03 Nov 1968 1968-098A 1968-098A KH-4B Image quality is variable and displays areas of soft focus and image smear.
1106 OPS 3890 05 Feb 1969 1969-010A 1969-010A KH-4B The best image quality to date.
1107 OPS 3654 24 Jul 1969 1969-063A 1969-063A KH-4B Forward camera failed on pass 1 and remained inoperative throughout the rest of the mission.
1108 OPS 6617 04 Dec 1969 1969-105A 1969-105A KH-4B Cameras operated satisfactorily and the mission carried 811 ft (247 m) of aerial color film added to the end of the film supply.
1109 OPS 0440 04 Mar 1970 1970-016A 1970-016A KH-4B Cameras operated satisfactorily but the overall image quality of both the forward and aft records is variable.
1110 OPS 4720 20 May 1970 1970-040A 1970-040A KH-4B The overall image quality is less than that provided by recent missions and 2
1111 OPS 4324 23 Jun 1970 1970-054A 1970-054A KH-4B The overall image quality is good.
1112 OPS 4992 18 Nov 1970 1970-098A 1970-098A KH-4B The forward camera failed on pass 104 and remained inoperative throughout the rest of the mission.
1113 OPS 3297 17 Feb 1971 1971-F01A 1971-F01 KH-4B Mission failed due to failure of Thor booster. Destroyed shortly after launch.
1114 OPS 5300 24 Mar 1971 1971-022A 1971-022A KH-4B The overall image quality is good and comparable to the best of past missions. On-board program failed after pass 235
1115 OPS 5454 10 Sep 1971 1971-076A 1971-076A KH-4B Overall image quality is good.
1116 OPS 5640 19 Apr 1972 1972-032A 1972-032A KH-4B Very successful mission and image quality was good.
1117 OPS 6371 25 May 1972 1972-039A 1972-039A KH-4B Last KH-4B mission. Very successful mission, failure to deploy one solar panel and leak in Agena gas system shortened mission from 19 to 6 days[55]

Photo gallery

See also

Popular culture

The 1963 thriller novel Ice Station Zebra and its 1968 film adaptation were inspired, in part, by news accounts from April 17, 1959, about a missing experimental Corona satellite capsule (Discoverer II) that inadvertently landed near Spitzbergen on April 13. While Soviet agents may have recovered the vehicle,[37][57] it is more likely that the capsule landed in water and sank.[28] They are also mentioned in the video-game Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.


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  13. Monmonier, p. 24.
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  32. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, p. 292.
  33. National Reconnaissance Office. "National Reconnaissance Office Review and Redaction Guide for Automatic Declassification of 25-Year-Old Information. Version 1.0, 2006 edition, p. 52. Accessed 2012-06-06.
  34. Ruffner, p. 32-33.
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  36. Peebles, p. 51.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 National Reconnaissance Office. "National Reconnaissance Office Review and Redaction Guide for Automatic Declassification of 25-Year-Old Information. Version 1.0, 2006 edition, p. 154. Accessed 2012-06-06.
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  40. Chien, Phillip. "High Spies." Popular Mechanics. February 1996, p. 49.
  41. "Declassified intelligence satellite photographs fact sheet 090-96". United States Geological Survey. February 1998. 
  42. "Discoverer 13 - NSSDC ID: 1960-008A". NASA NSSDC. 
  43. "Sputnik 5 - NSSDC ID: 1960-011A". NASA NSSDC. 
  44. Yenne, Bill (1985). The Encyclopedia of US Spacecraft. Exeter Books (A Bison Book), New York. ISBN 0-671-07580-2. p.37 Discoverer
  45. "1967-043B". NASA National Space Science Data Center. 2010-10-08. 
  46. "1970-098B". NASA National Space Science Data Center. 2010-10-08. 
  47. Executive Order 12951
  48. Broad, William J. (12 September 1995). "Spy Satellites' Early Role As 'Floodlight' Coming Clear". The New York Times. 
  49. "Satellite images spy ancient history in Syria". PhysOrg. August 3, 2006. 
  50. Britt, Robert Roy (August 7, 2006). "Ancient Syrian Settlements Seen in Spy Satellite Images". LiveScience. 
  51. Ur, Jason. "Ancient Communication Networks in Northern Mesopotamia". Harvard University. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  52. Ur, Jason. "Archaeological Applications of Declassified Satellite Photographs". Harvard University. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  53. "MISSION 9043 SUCCESSFUL AIR RECOVERY". National Reconnaissance Office. 21 September 1962. 
  54. "Photographic Evaluation Report: Mission 9043". National Reconnaissance Office. 31 October 1962. 
  55. 55.0 55.1 Robery Perry (October 1973). "A History of Satellite Reconnaissance: Volume I - Corona (page 215)". Central Intelligence Agency. 
  57. Taubman, Secret Empire, p. 287.


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