Re: Spy Satellites at the Air Force Museum

From: Jonathan McDowell (
Date: Mon Jan 30 2012 - 05:05:15 UTC

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    In fact, it was no big secret. Phil Klass's 1971 book 'Secret Sentries
    in Space' referred to the upcoming launch of the first 'Big Bird'
    satellite. I'm missing the critical issue of Aviation Week, but the Jan
    31 1972 issue (p.28) reports "US Air Force launched another Lockheed
    'Big Bird' reconnaissance satellite on Jan 20 ... the 25000 lb
    spacecraft, the second prototype...". Tony Kenden's classic July 1978
    review in Spaceflight magazine listed all the HEXAGON launches to date,
    calling them 'Big Bird' and saying that they had a Perkin-Elmer high
    resolution camera and a Kodak `area survey' (i.e. mapping) camera. He
    even spotted that the most recent (Dec 1976) launch had different
    characteristics and was probably the first in the new series which we
    now call the KH-11.
    Which sort of makes a mockery of NRO's rationale for keeping the programmatic
    details classified until now. I was well aware of them (to the above level
    of detail) as a teenager in the UK in the 1970s.
    > That is an interesting question. Back in those days, a lot of people had
    > a general idea that many of the Vandenberg launches involved
    > reconnaissance payloads.
    > I do not recall seeing any mention of these launches or their payloads
    > on the Los Angeles TV news or in the Los Angeles newspapers.
    > Brian Webb
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