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Corona Between the Sun and the Earth

Abstracts of Chapters

Abstracts of Chapters

 

1.The Prelude to Space Reconnaissance

Tension Triumph: Civilian and Military Relations and the Birth of the U-2 Program

Jonathan E. Lewis

Directed by Richard M. Bissell Jr., the rapid development and deployment of the U-2 spy plane was one of the great triumphs of the Cold War. This article will explore the management techniques Bissell used to build the U-2 project organization, coordinate a confederation of civilian and military interests, and overcome repeated Air Force attempts to gain control of the program, Bissell's choice and development of the organization's structure, culture, and personnel will be examined in the context of his broad mission not only to deploy the plane, but to build a photo interpretation capability, and produce an intelligence product that satisfied consumer needs.

Post War Strategic Reconnaissance and the Genesis of Project Corona
R. Cargill Hall

Strategic reconnaissance and peacetime overflight were new concepts in the post World War II period. The Soviet Union's detonation of nuclear devices, Communist victory in China, and war in Korea stimulated development of a strategic reconnaissance capability. The early pioneers in strategic reconnaissance came out of industry, the military, academia. During this early period, the US and Britain would conduct reconnaissance overflights of portions of the USSR using converted bombers (e.g., RB-47s and RB-45s). These aircraft were vulnerable to Soviet attack. The Eisenhower administration determined to develop high altitude reconnaissance aircraft and ultimately reconnaissance satellites.

 

2.The Beginning of Space Reconnaissance

Corona, Argon, and Lanyard: A Revolution for US Overhead Reconnaissance Robert A. McDonald

Corona, Argon, and Lanyard were the first three US operational imaging satellite reconnaissance systems. They were developed during the Cold War as highly-classified programs, and all three were film return systems. Corona was the most indispensable from a national security perspective. It initially operated under the unclassified Discoverer Program, which had its first successful mission on August12, 1960, when an experimental recovery bucket was retrieved from space with an American flag in it. August 18, 1960, marked the first successful mission that returned film from space. The quality of Corona's reconnaissance imagery improved over the life of the program from about 40 ft. for the original KH-1 camera to somewhat better than 6 ft. for the final KH-4B camera. The final Corona mission was flown on May 24, 1972.


Corona: A Programmatic Perspective
Frederic C.E. Oder and Martin Belles

The Corona program grew out of US Air Force Project Weapon System II7L (WS-117L), for which Lockheed was the prime contractor. Lockheed went on to serve as technical adviser and integrator of all Corona equipment other than the Thor booster. It developed the orbiting Agena upperstage and integrated and led the testing, launching, and on-orbit control operations. The initial Corona vehicles were launched under the cover of the Discoverer series. The earliest missions experienced difficulties, and it was not until Discoverer XIV that reconnaissance imagery was first collected. The Corona program provided a legacy for the US to become a space leader.

 

ZENIT: Corona's Soviet Counterpart Peter A. Gorin

This article describes the development of the first two types of the Soviet photoreconnaissance satellites, Zenit-2 and Zenit-4. Apart from the satellites themselves, the political background and development of the Soviet space reconnaissance infrastructure are discussed. The article provides a short comparison of the Soviet Zenit and the US Corona programs. This article represents the author's personal opinion based on available sources.

 

3.The Technology Behind the Pictures

The Design and Engineering of Corona's Optics

F. Dow Smith The Corona camera and its optics grew out of the technological state-of-the-art of the post World War II period; the geopolitical events of the period led to a decision in the late 1950s to fund the Corona program. Work at the Boston University Physical Research Laboratory was critical to the Corona camera, which was subsequently developed at the newly-founded Itek Corporation. The camera was a classic panoramic type that used a Petzval lens configuration. There was an atmosphere of teamwork that was critical to the development of the camera.

Evolution of Standard Agena: Corona's Spacecraft

 

Robert M. Powell

Between February 1959 and February 1987, 362 Agenas were launched. This is the spacecraft that was used to fly the Corona photoreconnaissance satellite. Three basic Agena configurations were developed: A, B, and D. Only 19 were flown in the A configuration; the rest, Bs and Ds. The Bs and Ds were longer (20 ft. 8 in. vs. 14 ft. 3 in.) and heavier (14,100 lbs. vs. 8210 lbs. at launch) than the As. All were 5 ft. in diameter. The Agena consisted of three basic subsystems: Propulsion, which consisted of nested tanks for fuel and oxidizer, and a gimbaled engine that used UDMH for fuel and IRFNA as oxidizer; Guidance and control, which consisted of sequence timers, an inertial reference package, infrared horizon sensors, a velocity meter, and cold gas thrusters for pitch, roll, and yaw control; and communication and control, which consisted of telemetry, radar tracking beacon/command receiving transponder, and an orbital sequence of events programmer adjustable by ground command. Agena was Thor-boosted from the Pacific Missile Range and its recovery vehicle recovered in mid-air over the Pacific or from the ocean as back-up.

 

4.The People and Their Organizations

From the U-2 to Corona and Those Who Searched for Invisibility
Donald E. Welzenbach

This article reviews the involvement of government and contractor personnel who were associated with the development of the U-2, SR-71, and ultimately Corona. Edwin Land and James Killian were very active among an elite group of scientists who advised President Eisenhower, as well as the CIA leadership during the 1950s. Richard Bissell, Jr., initially chief of CIA's special projects element, was a major CIA player during this period. Bissell brought Richard S. Leghorn and personnel of the Boston University's Optical/Physical Research Laboratories (BUORL) into the projects. Contractors, such as Lockheed, Perkin-Elmer Corporation, Fairchild Camera Company, and Itek Corporation became involved in the history of these reconnaissance programs. By the time Corona was being developed, RAND personnel such as Amrom Katz and Merton Davies became involved in the camera aspects of the reconnaissance challenge. The serendipity of the various developments at the time provided Dick Bissell the best of all possible worlds to bring together resources to meet Eisenhower's challenge of the time to meet the threat of surprise attack.

Corona's Pioneers
Robert A. McDonald

Pioneers in the scientific and intelligence world took the intellectual, scientific, and political risks to create the US Government's first imaging reconnaissance satellite, Corona. They came from government and industry, and there were thousands over the life of the program. Forty-eight pioneers were selected from the early years of the program and were honored during the Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Commemoration of the Corona program on May 24,1995. This article outlines a brief summary of their contributions to the success of the program.


Corona's Invisible ASPRS Partners
Ronald J. Ondrejka

Without the American Society of Photogrammetry (ASP)-- now known as the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS)--during the years centered on 1960, the Corona program would not have readily located and accessed the resources of responsive technologies that were needed to expedite the acquisition and exploitation of Corona satellite reconnaissance imagery. Both individual and corporate sustaining members of the Society contributed to the program's success. The technologies necessary for creating and using Corona imagery--technologies that included photo-optical sciences and engineering, photointerpretation, photogrammetry, geodesy, and cartography--describe the professional ASP membership in 1960. The contributions of the many individual and corporate members at that time helped Corona meet its goals. The achievements of these members are reflected in the health and professional influences of ASPRS today.


Arthur C. Lundahl: Founder of the Image Exploitation Discipline
Dino A. Brugioni and Frederick J. Doyle

Art Lundahl, as the founder of the image exploitation discipline, was a major player in the interpretation and use of Corona imagery. During World War II Lundahl encountered aerial imagery by interpreting photographs of enemy targets in the Pacific Theater. He started his civilian career with the Naval Photographic Interpretation Center in 1946. In 1953, Lundahl became the first chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Photographic Intelligence Division, which later became the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC). As the NPIC director, Lundahl was responsible for the analysis of U-2 photography, and then after 1960, imagery acquired by the Corona reconnaissance satellite. Lundahl enjoyed the confidence of four US Presidents and briefed many other high-ranking officials from around the world. During his career, he received many awards for his work in photointerpretation and was universally admired by his colleagues in the intelligence and remote sensing communities.

 

5. Declassification and Opening Secrets to the Public

The Declassification Decision: Opening the Cold War Sky to the Public
Robert A. McDonald

Executive Order 12951 declassified Corona, Argon, and Lanyard satellite reconnaissance imagery. This action was the result of a long history of studying the question and relaxing security controls. Vice President Gore announced the signing of the order in a ceremony at CIA on February 24, 1995. The more general executive order on protecting national security information (E.O. 12958, April 1995) also directs declassification of information that may include additional satellite reconnaissance imagery. Continued national security concerns may require the continued classification of more recent imagery. After the Corona program's national security sensitivity question was resolved, former Director of Central Intelligence Woolsey declassified and authorized transfer of a Corona camera artifact to the Smithsonian. Gore symbolically gave the camera to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution during the February 1995 ceremony. The camera was displayed at the Air and Space Museum during the 35th Anniversary Commemoration of the Corona Program, and is to become a part of the museum's collection.


Image Coverage Models for Declassified Corona, Argon, and Lanyard Satellite Photography--A Technical Explanation
J. Michael Selander

This article describes the construction of mathematical camera models for the Corona, Argon, and Lanyard United States photoreconnaissance satellite imagery systems. Imagery acquired by these systems from 1960 to 1972--approximately 860,000 frames total--is being declassified and made available to the public through the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The camera models described in this article were used to augment a legacy database of image coverage coordinates. This database is used by the Global Land Information System (GLIS) at the EROS Data Center (EDC) to allow users to interactively locate images of interest.

Digitizing Corona Imagery: Quality vs. Cost
Jon C. Leachtenauer, Kenneth Daniel, and Thomas P. Vogl

Corona, Argon, and Lanyard imagery, unlike more recent satellite imagery, was collected on film. For many potential applications in fields that include environmental research, archaeology, and history, it would be desirable to convert the data into a digital format. The National Exploitation Laboratory at the former National Imagery Interpretation Center of the CIA conducted a 1995 study that was designed to determine the impact of digitizing resolution on the information content of converted digitized products. As part of the study, the investigators used a sample of digitizers (at various digitizing spot sizes) to digitize images that were on a sample of duplicate positive film. They displayed the digitized data in softcopy format, and imagery analysts compared the digitized softcopy images with the original hardcopy film products. They measured information loss by using the National Imagery Interpretability Scale (NIIRS). The results of the study provide a basis for selecting digitizer resolution as a function of information/bandwidth trade offs.

Declassified Intelligence Satellite Photographs Available from the US Geological Survey
Donna K. Scholz

An Executive Order, signed by President Clinton on February 22, 1995, authorized the declassification of satellite photographs collected by the US intelligence community during the 1960s and early 1970s. Products from this collection include film negatives, positives, and paper prints, which are available to the public at the cost of reproduction. Photographs are available from the US Geological Survey's National Satellite Land Remote Sensing Data Archive and the National Archives Record Administration. The images were declassified incrementally, and the first ones made available for public purchase on March 1, 1996. All images were made available by September 1996. An online catalog and browse images for the entire collection are accessible at no charge on the USGS's Global LIS [Land Information System].

 

6. The Impact of Space Reconnaissance

Corona's Imagery: A Revolution in Intelligence and Buckets of Gold for National Security
Robert A. McDonald

It was difficult for the US intelligence community to acquire information about the denied areas of the USSR and its communist satellites during the early days of the Cold War. Corona's satellite reconnaissance spacecraft opened a new view into the communist bloc for both intelligence analysts and US policymakers. Corona contributed to exposing the myth of a "missile gap," built confidence in monitoring arms control, helped detect nuclear proliferation, and supported the SS-9 Debate during the 1960s.


How the Cold War and its Intelligence Problems Influenced Corona Operations
Roland S. Inlow

Corona was introduced into the Cold War at a time when there were many gaps in intelligence, and US/Soviet nuclear capabilities were increasing dramatically. It took several years for Corona to provide the initial imagery needed to "search" the Soviet land-mass. The process involved two functions: (1) finding and cataloguing all significant activities; and, (2) confirming the absence of activity when that was the case. Corona has made a lasting contribution, and by any criterion, the Corona program was an outstanding intelligence success in a time of great national need.

Corona: The Foundation for a Mapmaking Revolution
Joseph A. Baclawski

The materials collected by the formerly classified Corona intelligence satellite program became an important resource for US mapping applications on a worldwide basis. The 1995 declassification of the Corona program permits an analysis of how its photographs and ephemeris data were used in two drastically different mapping situations--one on the USSR area where the available mapping data base was poor, and the second on the US area where the existing mapping data were better but needed major updating.


Mapping the Soviet landmass was undoubtedly the most technologically challenging task to which the Corona and the associated Argon materials were applied. Achieving success required development of various types of foreign area mapping specialists, and massive investments in research and development of unique production equipment, all supported by complex computer programs. US mapping organizations overcame these obstacles to map over one-sixth of the Earth's land surface at a medium scale in just over a decade.

 

7. The Future

Potential New Applications for Declassified Early Satellite Reconnaissance Imagery
Robert A. McDonald

Imagery experts in the intelligence community have suggested that declassified satellite reconnaissance imagery can answer remote sensing questions that go beyond national security problems. The superior spatial resolution of Corona imagery, when compared with the civil remote sensing systems of the 1970s and 1980s, can be used to complement information that was obtained earlier by the civil systems of the time. Corona imagery can significantly extend environmental timelines and fill gaps in civil records. It has the potential to meet Vice President Al Gore's objectives to recognize, measure, and assess global changes. Corona imagery also can be employed to address traditional remote sensing problems, such as resource management, agriculture, forestry, and archaeology. It also can find applications in the social sciences. Corona imagery, a valuable intelligence source during the early Cold War, now has the potential for making significant contributions to the civilian community.


Lessons and Benefits from Corona's Development
Robert A. McDonald

Experience with the Corona program suggests five lessons with policy implications for the future and benefits for today: (1) a strong industrial base is a key to technological success; (2) innovative management is fundamental to organizational success; (3) security may be necessary for success in an intelligence activity; (4) reliable intelligence is an integral part of developing sound national security policy; and, (5) national security investments provides dual-use opportunities. We need to consider these lessons as we move through the transition of the post-Cold War period into the Third Millennium.


Corona's Legacy for the New Millennium
Sam Araki with Robert A. McDonald

The development of the Corona imaging reconnaissance satellite was a challenge during an era of limited knowledge about space physics and limited experience in space operations. The Corona engineers met the challenges and left us with a legacy of space technology and program management concepts for future aerospace development. When the Corona legacy meets the modern challenges of the information revolution, there are new, unknown opportunities to explore.

A Look Back to Corona and a Look Forward to the Information Era
Jeffrey K. Harris

The information era can be seen as an opportunity to build on the technological heritage that Corona forged in the 1960s. Corona grew out of the necessity to acquire information about the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and it achieved a number of firsts in space helping set the technological standard for future US space programs. Corona offers a lesson that a small group of empowered people can explore options and, with risks, achieve their goal. At the same time, Corona left a technological and information legacy that presents new opportunities for the information era. Information technology is evolving at an ever faster rate, and the US begins the information era with a distinct advantage. In this age of the ever-increasing use of technology we need to recognize that some amount of system failure may be inherent because of the complexity of the technological systems. Tomorrow's future is bright, and knowledge from our technological heritage can be the catalyst.

Reproduced with permission, the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. Dr. Robert A. McDonald, Corona Between the Sun and the Earth:The First NRO Photoreconnaissance Eye in Space, 1997.

 


Historical Document
Posted: Apr 29, 2013 02:04 PM
Last Updated: Apr 29, 2013 02:04 PM