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CIA’s “Big Bird” spy satellite — KH-9 Hexagon

13 April 2012

CIA’s “Big Bird” spy satellite — KH-9 Hexagon

Lockheed and Eastman Kodak were tasked by the National Reconnaissance Office to develop another satellite in the Key Hole program but not one for high resolution photo reconnaissance — instead one for medium resolution but over a much more vast area. The KH-9 Hexagon, though nicknamed “Big Bird”, was the result of the effort with 19 of the satellites flying successfully from 1971 through 1986.

Even more capable in film capacity than the preceding KH-7 and KH-8 (see earlier posts), now carrying four film re-entry capsules aloft — five when also equipped with the mapping camera (30 foot/9.1m resolution) — the KH-9 had stereo cameras (excellent for determining feature elevations) as its main camera. The stereo cameras could theoretically resolve to 0.61 meters, in other words, two feet.

This satellite is a recent addition to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, which was recently visited by Jayne Davis who courteously lent these images to this blog under her copyright.

Here is the KH-9 fact sheet from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

The rear of the KH-9 Hexagon with film buckets and cameras in the forward portion — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

The Hexagon's payload bay with the stereo imaging cameras to the rear and two of the four possible photo re-entry capsules "buckets" to the front — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

Illustration of the KH-9 locations for panoramic cameras and film recovery vehicles — photo courtesy of the National Reconnaissance Office

Two KH-9 missions had the addition of a low resolution mapping camera, added to the forward portion of the vehicle and shown here — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

The low resolution mapping camera in the lower section and the film re-entry vehicle in the upper, conical, section — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

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