NRO Declassifies Secret Spy Satellite History

09.20.11 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the National Reconnaissance Office declassified and released thousands of pages of historical records documenting the development and operation of its GAMBIT and HEXAGON satellite programs.  At first glance, many of the documents appear to be interesting and substantial additions to the historical record on the subject.  (The associated satellite imagery does not yet seem to be available.)

For more than a decade, the most detailed illustrations of the KH-9 HEXAGON available to the public were a series of widely replicated line drawings prepared by Charles P. Vick in the 1990s (when he was at the Federation of American Scientists, as a matter of fact).  Now that the KH-9 has been formally declassified and put on public display, as it was last Saturday, it is possible to appreciate what a remarkably perceptive job Mr. Vick did in portraying the satellite’s structure and operation.

For other accounts of the NRO anniversary releases see “KH-9 Hexagon Spy Satellite Makes a Rare Public Outing” by Keith Cowing, September 17, and “Big Black Throws a Party” by Dwayne Day, The Space Review, September 19.