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.
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.