Re: NRO PR: POPPY Satellite Reconnaissance Program Recognized

From: Jonathan McDowell (
Date: Fri Sep 16 2005 - 23:16:02 EDT

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    Speculations on POPPY - Jonathan McDowell
    Despite the declassification of POPPY, it's still not clear which
    satellites were POPPY satellites. Here I put down my own guesses,
    but mainly I point out that things are confused. Comments welcome.
    The POPPY fact sheet says that "A total of seven POPPY satellites
    launched into space from 1962 to 1971". 
    For the time being I am assuming that this is false and that it should
    read "There were a total of seven launches in the POPPY program from
    1962 to 1971". The followon program starting in 1976 involved multiple
    satellites, and the final POPPY launch in 1971 consisted of four
    apparently identical satellites. 
    The alternate possibility is that one of the four 1971-110 payloads
    was a POPPY and the other three were something different.
    That's not impossible, but I'd be surprised.
    On the assumption, then, that each launch might have multiple POPPY
    satellites, let's try and identify them. For each launch I list
    at the bottom of this
    all objects noted in the US Space Command SATCAT as payloads, and
    their SATCAT names. I also list the satellites listed for that
    launch date in a summary of NRL-launched spacecraft from the
    Naval Center for Space Technology; there's no
    mapping given between those names and the international designations
    (e.g. NRL 130 is one of the 1963-021 objects but we don't know
    which one). There are also blatant inconsistencies between
    the two sources - for instance, on 1963-021 "Dosimeter" and "PL 112"
    are separate satellites in the NCST list, in contrast to 1963-021D
    "RADOSE 112" which suggests the two are the same radiation
    dosimeter satellite. 
    Nevertheless, we can make some guesses. Look at the NCST listings,
    and accept my guess that the last POPPY launch is the quartet
    of payloads 171-174, listed by NCST as gravity gradient experiments.
    Then notice that the 1969-082 launch has similar payloads 161-164;
    and that 1967-053 has payloads 151 and 153 listed interspersed with
    GGSE 4 and 5:
               PL 151        Grav Grad expt.
               GGSE IV       Grav Grad expt.
               PL 153        Grav Grad expt.
               GGSE V        Grav Grad expt.
    I'm guessing the GGSEs here are PL152 and PL154, completing the
    quartet. Published papers show they had different boom configurations.
    Now I'm guessing that the GGSE (Gravity Gradient Stabilization
    Experiment) series was linked to POPPY; that POPPY flights 
    were gravity-stabilized and GGSE was used to improve them. GGSE satellites
    may be modified POPPY satellites with no ELINT payload, or may
    be fully functional POPPY with the GGSE test as an add-on experiment.
    So working further back, in the previous launch (launch 4) there's no quartet,
    but we can look at the following candidates; Solrad satellites
    are included because they were used in the GRAB program.
    Launch 1:
               PL 120          Classified
               PL 121          Classified
    Launch 2:
               SR VI         Solar X-rays
               PL 112           Classified
    Launch 3:
               SR VIIA       Solar X-rays
               GGSE 1        Grav grad exp.
               PL 135        Classified
    Launch 4:
               SR VIIB        Solar X-rays
               PL 142         Classified
               GGSE II        Grav. grad exp.
               GGSE III       Grav. grad exp.
    I'll advance the following hypotheses:
     - Hypothesis 1.  All the above satellites were POPPY or, in the
       case of GGSE, POPPY-related.
    -  Hypothesis 2: The POPPY satellites were SR VI, SR VIIA, SR VIIB, 
       continuing the GRAB/SOLRAD cover story. The Dec 1962
       launch was one of PL120 and PL121, with the other one being
       a thermal control experiment ("BLACK SPHERE" in the SATCAT;
       the "SURCAL 1" in the SATCAT is assumed to be an error, since
       SURCAL 1 was lost in a Jan 1962 launch failure).
    -  Hypothesis 3: After the GRAB program ended, the SOLRAD series
       became fully scientific because POPPY needed a whole satellite to  
       itself and couldn't share. The GGSE satellites weren't related
       to POPPY. The POPPY satellites were 
       PL120 or PL121; PL112; PL135; and PL142. I still think
       that PL 151/153, PL 161-164, PL171-174 were POPPY group flights.
    B TAU 3:   SURCAL 1
    B TAU 4:   SURCAL 1A
               PL 120          Classified
               PL 121          Classified
               SURCAL II       SPASUR Calib
               CALSPHERE I     Object identification
    POPPY LAUNCH 2: 1963-021
    63-021B    LOFTI 2A        
    63-021C    SOLRAD 6        
    63-021D    RADOSE 112      
    63-021E    FTV 1292
    63-021F    SURCAL 1B
               SR VI            Solar X-rays
               LOFTI IIB        Low freq radio
               PL 112           Classified
               Dosimeter        Radiation counter
               SURCAL III       SPASUR calib
    POPPY LAUNCH 3: 1964-001
    64-001B    GGSE 1 (GGRS)
    64-001D    SOLRAD 7A
    64-001E    GREB
               SR VIIA       Solar X-rays
               GGSE 1        Grav grad exp.
               PL 135        Classified
    POPPY LAUNCH 4: 1965-016
    65-016A    OPS 4988 (GREB 6)
    65-016B    GGSE 2
    65-016C    GGSE 3
    65-016D    SOLRAD 7B
    65-016G    SURCAL 2
    65-016H    PORCUPINE 1
               SR VIIB        Solar X-rays
               PL 142         Classified
               GGSE II        Grav. grad exp.
               GGSE III       Grav. grad exp.
               SURCAL IV      SPASUR calib.
               DODECAPOLE I   Object identification
    POPPY LAUNCH 5: 1967-053
    67-053A    OPS 5712 (P/L 160)
    67-053C    GGSE 4
    67-053D    GGSE 5
    67-053E    TIMATION 1
    67-053F    SURCAL 159
    67-053G    OPS 5712 (P/L 152)
    67-053H    OPS 5712 (P/L 153)
    67-053J    SURCAL 150B
               PL 151        Grav Grad expt.
               GGSE IV       Grav Grad expt.
               PL 153        Grav Grad expt.
               GGSE V        Grav Grad expt.
               TIMATION I    Navigation
               CALSPHERE III Object identification
               CALSPHERE IV  Object identification
    POPPY LAUNCH 6: 1969-082
    (69-082A    OPS 1807    USAF/NRO Program A aft rack payload?)
    69-082B    OPS 7613 (P/L 1)
    69-082C    TIMATION 2
    69-082D    OPS 7613 (P/L 3)
    69-082E    OPS 7613 (P/L 4)
    69-082F    OPS 7613 (P/L 5)
    69-082G    OPS 7613 (P/L 6)
    69-082H    TEMPSAT
    69-082J    SOICAL (CYLINDER)
    69-082K    SOICAL (CONE)
                PL 161        Grav grad expt.
                PL 162        Grav grad expt.
                PL 163        Grav grad expt.
                PL 164        Grav grad expt.
                TIMATION II   Navigation
                PL 176        Classified
                TEMPSAT II    Thermal design expt.            
    POPPY LAUNCH 7: 1971-110
    71-110A    OPS 7898 (P/L 1)
    71-110C    OPS 7898 (P/L 2)
    71-110D    OPS 7898 (P/L 3)
    71-110E    OPS 7898 (P/L 4)
    NCST:       PL 171          Grav grad expt.
                PL 172          Grav grad expt.
                PL 173          Grav grad expt.
                PL 174          Grav grad expt.
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