"I built spy satellites for a living"


23 Responses to “"I built spy satellites for a living"”

  1. Dean Putney says:

    I like that a spy satellite engineer used “light years” as a measurement of time.

  2. robcat2075 says:

    I’m surprised they didn’t come up with a better cover story about what they did than “don’t ask”

  3. rachelTIR says:

    My father worked as an optical engineer for Perkin Elmer in California for many years.  I remember him having to go to Connecticut on business from time to time.  Guess I have some questions to ask now!

  4. VonWatters says:

    If anyone’s interested in the development of the KH-9 (and its predecessors, and space tech in general) I find Dwayne Day’s articles in The Space Review great. http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1761/1 

  5. Roy Trumbull says:

    I never saw this myself but it was claimed in the overflights of Cuba prior to the missile crisis that not only could the Russian techs be seen but that brand on a package of Russian cigarettes could be identified.
    Decades later a satellite eavesdropped on Bresnev’s car phone.

  6. Alpacaman says:

    I got really confused when it said supplying film at 500 cm per second – that would be 432 km of film in a day – but then I realised that it would only need to supply it for short periods for individual photos, not constantly like I first thought.

    Does anyone know what kind of film speeds they used for satellites like this? How fast were the lenses? 

  7. awjt says:

    I like how the cameras are side-mounted on this thing, rather than like Hubble, which points out one end.

  8. outercow says:

    My favorite part of the story is how they still won’t declassify how much the program cost.

  9. kringlebertfistyebuns says:

    What absolutely fucking FLOORS me is the vanishingly short duration of these satellites’ missions.  Most of the missions listed in the Wikipedia article don’t seem to be more than two or three months before the satellites decayed (I presume this refers to their orbits. 

    What could account for such short mission lengths?  Did they just run out of film that quickly?

    • awjt says:

      THE LOWEST ORBIT POSSIBLE for highest resolution possible with that technology.  They simply couldn’t do it any other way.  Plus, it was non-digital film, and therefore a finite amount of it could be exposed and returned to earth, so it was easiest to end the mission, crash the thing into the ocean and launch a new one, rather than try to refill the film canisters with manned missions.

      These were the most expensive disposable cameras in human history!

  10. It’s amazing that as recently as the Reagan era they were dropping film to Earth from these things.

  11. AA says:

    “Well, kids, getting the film back from one of these was the easy part…Now, loading it up with new film….That is a whole different classified (curved) ball game….if you catch my orbital drift”

  12. jandrese says:

    I sometimes wondered if the Shuttles “We must be able to manually repair satellites” mission requirement originally came from these birds.  By the time the shuttle actually launched they were obsolete, but the requirements process for the shuttle goes way back and includes an awful lot of spooky stuff. 

    • Ronald Pottol says:

      Yes, the shuttle was 3x larger than NASA wanted, so it could put these in orbit. Then with all the delays, the AF built their own rockets to do it, so a big chunk of why the shuttle was as big as it was went away.

    • loopyduck says:

      Repairing satellites was part of it, but there was even a “being able to capture” satellites goal at one point!

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