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Encyclopedia > Reconnaissance satellite

A spy satellite (officially referred to as a reconnaissance satellite or recon sat) is an Earth observation satellite or communications satellite deployed for military or intelligence applications. Until the 1970s and even the 1980s, many reconnaissance satellites that took photographs would eject canisters of photographic film, which would descend to earth and be retrieved in mid-air as they floated down on parachutes.


The term "reconnaissance satellite" is preferred, as "spy satellite" often has negative connotations.


In the United States, the most information is available on programs that existed up to 1972. Some information about programs prior to that time is still classified, and a small trickle of information is available on subsequent missions. A few up-to-date reconnaissance satellite images have been declassified on occasion, or leaked, as in the case of KH-11 photographs which were sent to Jane's Defence Weekly in 1985.


Examples of reconnaissance satellite missions:

  • high resolution photography (IMINT)
  • communications eavesdropping (SIGINT)
  • covert communications (HUMINT)
  • enforcement of nuclear test bans
  • detection of missile launches

Types of spy satellites

Key Hole (KH) series of imaging satellites:

Time period Designation Code name
or Nickname
Optics Notes
19591972 KH-1 to
KH-4
Corona Resolution: 7.5m, 2.75m, 1.8m
Focal length: 0.6m
First known series of US spy satellites; photographs returned by film canister ejection.
19601962  – Samos Res: 30 to 1.5m
Foc len: 0.7 to 1.83m
Most flights used radio to relay images; some film returns; probably cancelled due to poor-quality imagery
19611964 KH-5 Argon Res: 140m
Foc len: 76mm
Film return
1963 KH-6 Lanyard Res: 1.8m
Foc len: 1.67m
Shortlived operation for imaging a specific site; used a camera from the Samos program; film return
19631967 KH-7 Gambit Res: 0.46m Film return
19661984 KH-8 Gambit Res: 0.5m Film return
19711986 KH-9 Hexagon
Big Bird
Res: 0.30m Film return
cancelled KH-10 Dorian Manned Orbiting Laboratory; space station based on Gemini program
19761995 KH-11 Crystal
Kennan
Res: 0.15m
Mirror: 2.3m
First known digital imaging spy satellite.
1990?–present? KH-12 Ikon
Improved Crystal
Res: 0.15 to 0.10m?
Mirror: 2.4 to 4m?
Digital imaging; possible "live" intelligence gathering
1999?–present? KH-13 8X? EIS? Res: 0.10? to 0.04m?
Mirror: 4m?
Very little known; possibly includes radar imaging or maybe stealth technology

See also

External links

  • http://www.fas.org/irp/imint/
  • Chronology of reconnaissance satellites (http://infomanage.com/international/intelligence/spychron.html)
  • Java 3D satellite tracker (http://liftoff.msfc.nasa.gov/realtime/jtrack/3d/JTrack3d.html)

  Results from FactBites:
 
Imaging Space Reconnaissance Opprations during the Cold War: Cause, Effect and Legacy (10985 words)
Serious satellite studies began with that 1946 RAND study, which showed that it was technically feasible to launch Earth satellites and that using them for reconnaissance -as "observation aircraft" -- would be an obvious mission.
Reconnaissance and surveillance -- the former is active, while the latter amounts to passively observing -- would have three basic functions for both sides during the remainder of the Cold War: technical intelligence collection; targeting; and arms control monitoring and verification.
Unlike other reconnaissance satellites built for foreign governments, which are supposed to remain under U.S. control, Space Imaging said that it in effect wanted to hand over the satellite's keys with the spacecraft itself.
Reconnaissance satellite - definition of Reconnaissance satellite in Encyclopedia (253 words)
A spy satellite (officially referred to as a reconnaissance satellite or recon sat) is an Earth observation satellite or communications satellite deployed for military or intelligence applications.
Until the 1970s and even the 1980s, many reconnaissance satellites that took photographs would eject canisters of photographic film, which would descend to earth and be retrieved in mid-air as they floated down on parachutes.
A few up-to-date reconnaissance satellite images have been declassified on occasion, or leaked, as in the case of KH-11 photographs which were sent to Jane's Defence Weekly in 1985.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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