Declassified secret satellite gets public showing

Added by on September 18, 2011

KH-9 Hexagon satellite on display / Photo: iamevltwin of Flickr

A declassified US Top Secret satellite was put on display by the US National Reconnaissance Office on Friday, its first public display, to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the founding of the National Reconnaissance Office.

The satellite called the KH-9 Hexagon, on display for only one day, is believed to have produced images of the Soviet Union, China and other countries during the Cold War.

The satellite is about 60 feet long and 10 feet side (20m by 3m) and was the largest put into orbit at the time of its launch in 1971. The satellite was operational until 1986 and took the highest-quality images using a low-resolution camera at the time.

The satellite used a film-based imaging system, with photos sent back to Earth in recoverable capsules on a regular basis. Each photo covered 4,600 square kilometres with a resolution varying between 0.5 and 2m, making it easier for investigators to create more accurate maps. The satellite also carried specialized infrared cameras to be able to see through cloud cover and find camouflaged areas.

A total of 19 KH-9 satellites were sent into orbit, with each satellite having a lifetime ranging between 100 and 275 days.

The satellite on display was never in space, and parts of it were cut away to show the locations of the cameras. The display also included the reentry vehicles that returned exposed film back to Earth.

The satellite is expected to be moved to the US National Museum of the Airforce in Ohio.