||The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (January 2012)|
The first generation type (i.e. Corona   and Zenit) took photographs, then ejected canisters of photographic film which would descend to earth. Corona capsules were retrieved in mid-air as they floated down on parachutes. Later spacecraft had digital imaging systems and downloaded the images via encrypted radio links.
In the United States, most information available is on programs that existed up to 1972, as this information has been declassified due to its age. Some information about programs prior to that time is still classified, and a small amount of information is available on subsequent missions.
On 16 March 1955, the United States Air Force officially ordered the development of an advanced reconnaissance satellite to provide continuous surveillance of 'preselected areas of the earth' in order 'to determine the status of a potential enemy’s war-making capability'.
In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1. It was the first man-made object put in Earth's orbit.
The Manned Orbiting Laboratory, in which USAF personnel were to carry out reconnaissance missions, was cancelled in the late 1970s due to high cost, and to improvements in digital photography making manned operation unnecessary.
There are several major types of reconnaissance satellite.
- Early warning
- Provides warning of an attack by detecting ballistic missile launches. Earliest known are Missile Defense Alarm System.
- Nuclear explosion detection
- Identifies and characterizes nuclear explosions in space
- Photo surveillance
- Provides imaging of earth from space. Images can be a survey or close-look telephoto. Corona (satellite) is the earliest known. Spectral imaging is commonplace.
- Radar imaging
- Most space-based radars use synthetic aperture radar. Can be used at night or through cloud cover. Earliest known are US-A series.
Construction and design
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Examples of reconnaissance satellite missions:
- High resolution photography (IMINT)
- Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT)
- Communications eavesdropping (SIGINT)
- Covert communications
- Monitoring of nuclear test ban compliance (see National Technical Means)
- Detection of missile launches
On 28 August 2013, it was thought that "a $1-billion high-powered spy satellite capable of snapping pictures detailed enough to distinguish the make and model of an automobile hundreds of miles below" was launched from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base using America's most powerful rocket.
During the 1950s, a Soviet hoax had led to American fears of a bomber gap. In 1968, after gaining satellite photography, the United States' intelligence agencies were able to state with certainty that "No new ICBM complexes have been established in the USSR during the past year." President Lyndon B. Johnson told a gathering in 1967:
I wouldn't want to be quoted on this ... We've spent $35 or $40 billion on the space program. And if nothing else had come out of it except the knowledge that we gained from space photography, it would be worth ten times what the whole program has cost. Because tonight we know how many missiles the enemy has and, it turned out, our guesses were way off. We were doing things we didn't need to do. We were building things we didn't need to build. We were harboring fears we didn't need to harbor.
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In December 2013, the US's National Reconnaissance Office was the target of criticism as a result of its choice of logo for the NROL-39 spy satellite: a giant octopus astride the world above the phrase "Nothing is Beyond Our Reach". This was seen as inappropriate coming in the wake of the 2013 disclosures of mass surveillance.
- The OMAC Project
- Enemy of the State (film)
- Body of Lies (film)
- Ice Station Zebra
- Karlsson-on-the-Roof is Sneaking Around Again
- Defense Support Program (U.S.)
- European Union Satellite Centre
- List of intelligence gathering disciplines
- List of Kosmos satellites
- National Reconnaissance Office (U.S.)
- "Corona History". National Reconnaissance Office. Retrieved February 15, 2014.
- "Corona Program". JPL Mission and Spacecraft Library. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Wright, Michael; Herron, Caroline Rand (8 December 1985). "Two Years for Morison". New York Times. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Erickson, Mark. Into the Unknown Together - The DOD, NASA, and Early Spaceflight. ISBN 1-58566-140-6.
- reconnaissance satellite, Infoplease, retrieved 2014-02-17
- Hennigan, W.J. (August 27, 2013). "Monster rocket to blast off from Pacific coast, rattle Southland". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Melissa Goldin (2014-02-17). "Fragments of Soviet-Era Satellite Burn Up in Earth's Atmosphere". Mashable. Retrieved 2014-02-17.
- Heppenheimer, T. A. (1998). The Space Shuttle Decision. NASA. pp. 191, 198.
- "'Nothing is beyond our reach,' National Reconnaissance Office's new logo claims". Fox News. 6 December 2013. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Szoldra, Paul (7 December 2013). "US Spy Agency Boasts 'Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach' With New Logo". Business Insider. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Kupperberg, Paul (2003). Spy satellites. Rosen Publishing Group. Retrieved February 15, 2012. ISBN 0-8239-3854-9
- Richelson, Jeffrey (1990). America's Secret Eyes in Space: the U.S. Keyhole Spy Satellite Program. Harper & Row. Retrieved February 15, 2012. ISBN 0-88730-285-8
- Norris, Pat (2008). "Spies in the Sky: Surveillance Satellites in War and Peace". Berlin; New York: Springer; Chichester, UK: In association with Praxis Publishing. Retrieved February 15, 2012.
- Space-Based Reconnaissance by MAJ Robert A. Guerriero
- FAS Intelligence Resource Program - Imagery Intelligence (IMINT)
- Java 3D satellite tracker
- GlobalSecurity.org: Imagery Intelligence
- Iran to Launch first spy satellite
- Egyptsat1 (MisrSat 1)
- Spaceports Around the World: Iraq's Al-Anbar Space Research Center
- Military Intelligence Satellites (NASA, remote sensing tutorial)