The Evolution and Importance of Reconnaissance Satellites Essay

900 Words4 Pages
After the U-2 incident of 1960, more emphasis was placed on safer methods of acquiring reconnaissance imagery. The first photographic reconnaissance satellite program was the codenamed Discovery. These first satellites could see objects as small as 35-40 feet and once they ejected their film capsule, the satellites were forced to reenter and burn up in the atmosphere. The latest declassified satellite is from the late 1970s and can focus on objects as small as 5.5 inches. Instead of using a film canister, the KH-11 series of satellites uses a digital sensor and communications satellites. Because of the classified nature of these satellites, little is known about the latest generations of satellites. However, from what the public does…show more content…
CORONA, the codename for program for the first generations of satellites, allowed the United States to have relatively recent imagery of any place on the globe. From 1960 to 1972, some form of the CORONA system was in orbit. In 1962, the fourth generation was given the name KH-4 (Key Hole, like looking through to see), and the previous generations were retroactively given the preceding numbers. KH-1 through KH-4B flew 144 missions, returning usable film 102 times. The retrieval method was one that we would call unorthodox today, but without a way to transmit the data easily back to earth a different system would need to be developed. After the several thousand foot roll of film was shot, it was ejected from the satellite in a reentry vehicle. The capsule would reenter the atmosphere and deploy a parachute. This would then ideally be caught by a special plane. If the plane was unable to recover the capsule, a military ship was waiting to retrieve it. The next generation of satellites would start to bring the military and intelligence community the high quality imagery it desired. This series was codenamed GAMBIT. The first, KH-7 was essentially the same as CORONA, but with a better a camera. It featured the same single capsule ejection/recovery system. The great leap forward was when an improved version of this camera was paired with a new satellite design. The KH-8 featured two or three return capsules, solar panels, and more fuel. This allowed these
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