FAS | Space | Military | Programs | IMINT | Index | Search |


The IMPROVED CRYSTAL can be imagined as a Hubble Space Telescope, with a large rocket engine attached to provide maneuverability. Like the Space Telescope, the IMPROVED CRYSTAL is about 4.5 meters (15 feet) in diameter, and with addition of its maneuvering module, is over 15 meters (50 feet) long (compared to the 13 meter Space Telescope). Contractors on the IMPROVED CRYSTAL include TRW and Lockheed. The dry weight (minus fuel) of the IMPROVED CRYSTAL is about 10 metric tons, about the same as the total weight, including fuel, of the KH-11. The total weight of the IMPROVED CRYSTAL has grown significantly, from the original 14 tons, to the current 18 tons. The additional fuel-carrying capacity accounts for most of the increase, and the IMPROVED CRYSTAL now can carry up to 7 tons of fuel. The primary difference between the 28,000 pound KH-11 and the heavier KH-12 is that the additional amount of maneuvering propellant carried on the IMPROVED CRYSTAL. This additional propellant can be used to prolong the operating life of the IMPROVED CRYSTAL, to maneuver to improve coverage of areas on the Earth of particular interest, and to maneuver to evade Soviet anti-satellite interceptors. Although the KH-12 was originally designed to be place into orbit (and perhaps serviced and refueled in orbit) by the Shuttle, the Titan 4 is now the primary launch vehicle for the IMPROVED CRYSTAL.

The optical sensors on the IMPROVED CRYSTAL are similar to the those of the KH-11. These electronic cameras provide real-time transmission of images to ground stations via Milstar relay satellites. The IMPROVED CRYSTAL sensors operate in visible and near infrared light, as well as thermal infrared to detect heat sources. These sensors probably incorporate low-light-level image intensifiers to provide night-time images. The KH-12's have an infrared capability superior to that of the IMPROVED CRYSTAL, with the advantage in infrared primarily for camouflage detection, for looking at buried structures, for looking at differential thermal inertia in the target area, for trying to determine which factories are operating and which factories are not.

The IMPROVED CRYSTAL's sophisticated electronics provides sharper images than the KH-11, comparable in quality to the best of the film return satellites, with a resolution approaching ten centimeters. A periscope-like rotating mirror reflects images onto the primary mirror, enabling the KH-12 to take pictures at very high angles of obliquity, imaging objects hundreds of kilometers away from its flight path.

Assembling the International Space Station [ISS] requires cooperation among the United States and its four international partners during 44 Space Shuttle flights commencing in late 1998. A Russian Service Module is required to support the ISS's initial assembly process and on-orbit development. Continued delays in Russian funding of the RSM, required for the third assembly phase of the ISS, raised considerable concern throughout the ISS community. NASA funded feasibility studies to provide alternate solutions and these studies identified a relatively low-cost and low-risk approach for an Interim Control Module (ICM), referred to as the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Bus. This concept offers a flight-proven design, initially developed as the Bus for the IMPROVED CRYSTAL, capable of delivery within the timeframe needed to maintain ISS schedules. The ICM will provide reboost and attitude control for the ISS from assembly phase 2A-7A, and possibly 8A. The ICM is deployed from the Space Shuttle and mated with the ISS at the Russian Node (called the FGB). The ICM provides at least one year of propellant operation with a goal of three years of operation.

KH-12 /1 was launched on 28 November 1992 by a Titan-4 from Vandenberg.

KH-12 /2 was launched on 05 December 1995 by a Titan-4 from Vandenberg.

KH-12 /3 was launched on 20 December 1996 by a Titan-4 from Vandenberg.

Sources and Methods

FAS | Space | Military | Programs | IMINT | Index | Search |

Maintained by Webmaster
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Saturday, September 09, 2000