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Spy satellite

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

See also

External links

Last updated: 08-26-2005 01:14:35
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12