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Military satellite projects were added to the mission of the Western Development Division in the mid-1950ís and came to play an increasingly important role in the activities of the divisionís successors. The first satellite program was known as the Military Satellite System (WS 117L), and the division was given responsibility for it in February 1956. WS 117L was to be a family of separate subsystems that could carry out different missions, including photo reconnaissance and missile warning. By the end of 1959, WS 117L had evolved into three separate programs ó the Discoverer Program, the Satellite and Missile Observation System, and the Missile Detection Alarm System. Discoverer and SAMOS were to carry out the photo reconnaissance mission, and MIDAS was to carry out the missile warning mission.

The MIDAS program ó the third offshoot of WS 117L ó aimed at developing a satellite that would carry an infrared sensor to detect hostile ICBM launches. The first MIDAS satellite, launched in February 1960, failed to achieve orbit. MIDAS II, launched in May 1960, did achieve orbit, but its telemetry system failed two days after launch. MIDAS III, successfully launched in July 1961, also achieved orbit and was the heaviest U.S. satellite launched up to that time. As was the case with SAMOS, a veil of secrecy was drawn across the MIDAS program in 1962. However, the MIDAS program eventually evolved into the Defense Support Program, and the DSP mission was declassified following the Persian Gulf war. Today, the satellites, ground stations, and mobile ground terminals of DSP perform MIDASís original mission of detecting and reporting on hostile missile launches.


FAS | Space | Military | Programs | Warning |||| Index | Search | Join

Implemented by Charles P. Vick, Sara D. Berman, and
Christina Lindborg, 1997 Scoville Fellow
Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Saturday, September 09, 2000, 01:45:00 PM