Development of CORONA, The World's First Reconnaissance Satellite

Uploaded by ciagov on 13.12.2012

You are looking at a piece of history.
The first photo taken by a camera aboard a reconnaissance satellite.
It shows Mys Shmidta Airfield in what was then the Soviet Arctic.
The photo was taken on August 18, 1960
by a camera mounted on a satellite called CORONA.
By today's imagery standards, the photo looks fuzzy and distant,
yet it was of great value
because it was the first-
one of many firsts-for the CORONA satellite reconnaissance program.
[President Eisenhower starts speaking] "No one wants another Pearl Harbor.
This means that we must have knowledge of military forces
and preparations
around the world.
those capable of
surprise attack.
Secrecy in the Soviet Union makes this essential.
In most of the world, no large-scale attack could be prepared in secret,
but in the Soviet Union there is a fetish of secrecy
and concealment.
This is a major cause of international tension and uneasiness today." [President Eisenhower finishes speaking]
Traditional reconnaissance options were limited.
So in 1954, President Eisenhower approved the U-2 program
under joint CIA-Air Force management
At about the same time,
the Air Force began a new effort,
referred to as weapons system 117L,
which included a number of earth orbiting satellite reconnaissance
With the concurrence of senior congressional leadership, Eisenhower also
approved a new covert satellite reconnaissance program.
Spun out of 117L, it was to be jointly managed by the same CIA-
Air Force team which created the U2.
Publicly christened Discoverer,
the program included a biomedical research mission,
but the primary mission was intelligence,
and the program name
CORONA began under utmost secrecy.
The Air Force, specifically its ballistic missile division
would be responsible for the development, launch and operation of the space borne
vehicle as well as recovery of the payload.
The Central Intelligence Agency would be responsible for developing and procuring
reconnaissance equipment and selecting the targets for imaging.
The CORONA program was envisioned to be a series of satellites that would carry
cameras to photograph denied areas.
Launched into polar orbits by Thor boosters,
the spacecraft would fly at approximate altitudes of 100 nautical miles
and take pictures of selected target areas.
The exposed film,
returned to Earth in capsules ejected from the satellite,
would be snatched in midair over the Pacific Ocean and airlifted to
processing facilities.
Dogged perseverance paid off...
with the success of the thirteenth launch, publicly announced as
Discoverer 13 on August 12, 1960.
This flight, designed to test the recovery vehicle, had no camera aboard.

The vehicle was successfully launched,
orbited and deorbited.
One week after the Discoverer 13 water recovery,
Discoverer 14 achieved
full success. The vehicle carried a 20-pound load of film. The camera
worked perfectly. And a full load of film was exposed and transferred to the recovery
Ejected on the satellite's 17th pass,
the film capsule was successfully snatched in midair by an Air Force C-119
Just 110 days after the U2 incident,
CORONA had made a quantum leap in intelligence gathering
by operating from the new high ground of space.
Three thousand feet of film were acquired on Discoverer 14's historic flight.
More than 1,650,00 square miles of Soviet
had been photographed for interpretation,
providing more coverage
than all of the U2 missions over the Soviet Union throughout previous years.
The 145th and final CORONA launch took place on May
25, 1972.
Having achieved its purpose,
CORONA's existence is now unclassified.
And its artifacts have been made available to the Smithsonian Institution
so that others might gain a sense of how far reaching the program's unsung
heroes were in their pioneering efforts.
The camera and two buckets from CORONA's last flight will be part of a permanent
exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.
The team members who madeup the CORONA program can take just
pride in their achievements in intelligence gathering
as well as their scientific and technical contributions.
They have compiled an enviable number of
lasting firsts.
The first use of a satellite to gather photo intelligence.
The first midair recovery or catch of a reentry vehicle.
The first mapping of the Earth from space.
The first gathering of stereo optical data from space.
The first use of multiple reentry vehicles.
The first space reconnaissance program to fly 100 missions...
An unmanned space flight endeavor that provided leading edge technology to
future man space flight.