MANNED RECONNAISSANCE IMAGING SPACERAFT
MOL MANNED ORBITAL LABORATORY
By © Charles P. Vick 2007 All Rights Reserved
The opinions and evaluations stated here in are only the author’s and cannot be construed to reflect those of any Government agency, company, institute or association. It is based on public information, circumstantial evidence, informed speculation, and declassified U.S. intelligence community documents, official US government documents and histories, oral histories, interviews and engineering analysis. As with all data regarding the intelligence programs of the US intelligence community, this analysis is subject to revision--and represents a work in progress.
KH-10, DORIAN, AFP-632 Launches, USAF
||Nov 3, 1966
The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) was a manned reconnaissance platform proposed by the Air Force as a successor to the cancelled X-20 Dynasoar project that was officially started in December 1963. It would have a crew of two living in a helium-oxygen atmosphere. The supposed advantages of a manned platform included on-orbit repair, target selection, and the ability to shoot through gaps in the cloud cover. By having a man in the loop, it was hoped that the value of the photos would be increased. Return and interpretation of film from CORONA took weeks or months, but MOL astronauts would be able to spot and image new targets without delay in conceptual theory.
One mockup was launched on November 3, 1966 , and the program was cancelled in 1969 due to budget constraints and the escalating war in Vietnam. The program was cancelled with $1.4 billion spent, and little to show other than the mockup and the launch pad at Vandenberg AFB, SLC-6. Seventeen astronauts were trained for the program, and several went on to high profile positions in the Air Force and space program. However in a Telecom of Henry A. Kissinger National Security Adviser to President R. M. Nixon revealed that the Eastman Kodak reconnissance camer program was saved with KH-9 delayed. Those astronauts under the age of 35 at the time of cancellation during the Johnson administration were allowed to transfer to the NASA astronaut corps. However new evidence indicated the KH-10 MOL national reconnaissance platform work continued into the Nixon administration minus the manned program. It would appear that the double side by side stripped down KH-8 camera system was continued into the KH-9 program but was ultimately found to be less than acceptable to the competitive two side by side overlapping Hubble like Perkins Elmera Camera telescopes offered better optical resolution from a higher orbital altitude than previously available with the precursor systems. The slow pace of the programs hardware development allowed the technology for the program to be outmoded by more advanced rapidly developing unmanned KH-9A and KH-9B and the operational KH-8 system with its larger film format to out mode the KH-10 Dorian manned and later unmanned reconnaissance imaging spacecraft.
There was also the incompatibility of an open manned military program with intelligence, military operations that could and did create conflicts with the intelligence community desired “quiet road”. The initial study for MOL in 1960, designated SR-178 and titled "Global Surveillance System" was considerably larger than the implemented test system. The satellites would have three to six astronauts, and four platforms would be in orbit simultaneously. Sensors considered included a high resolution camera with a 3 foot resolution, an infrared camera with a 75 foot resolution, a side looking radar with a 25 foot resolution, and an electronic intelligence SIGINT antenna.
During the years 1965-66 through 1969 period the MOL / KH-10 Dorian system had it primary mission changed refocusing on its planned Eastman Kodak optical imaging capability as a part of the overall National Reconnaissance program capability that forced some major redesign of its mission module details. From the start the MOL had built into its design the capability to operate unmanned to continue its national reconnaissance imaging capability which would sustain its usefulness as a national reconnaissance platform.
KH-10 DORIAN Spacecraft Description
A modified Gemini-B capsule would be used for the two man crew return. The planned lab was basically 10 feet in diameter, 39.09 feet long plus a mission module of 37.48 feet to make it a total of 71.9 feet long and weighed over 31,920 pounds. The two man Gemini-B spacecraft had a total length with the lab adapter of 16.01 feet. The Gemini-B capsule was 11.32 feet long. The actual pressurized compartment lab was between 11.03 and 15.1 feet long with an external diameter of 10.4 feet. The size and weight necessitated a new variant of the Titan-III booster, the Titan-3M with two seven segment solid fuel strap-ons instead of five segments, and a takeoff thrust of three million pounds. The triple barreled 176 foot 10.83 inch long Titan-IIIM was to place the 71 foot 11 inch MOL spacecraft into earth orbit as a single package. The basic cylinder structures of the MOL were 10 feet in diameter. A single booster was used for launch, to avoid the need for orbital rendezvous and docking though later advanced double mission versions were planned to be docked at the rear of both modules in configuration studies through 1965. This Mission Module was to house a standardized pressurized tunnel as well as a rear EVA air lock with escape capsules and docking interface. The man tended reconnaissance imaging telescope was also housed in the Mission Module which was to be maintenance man tended. Longer missions greater than 30 days for the MOL program would have required solar arrays as illustrated from its design studies on this web site. The shorter earlier missions less than 30 days would not have carried solar arrays. Many of the on board experiments such as the experimental beam and lens tests were in fact transferred from the MOL program the U. S., NASA Skylab program after the program was cancelled.
The rear pressurized tunnel, EVA air lock, escape capsules pods and docking interface would have either been partially deleted or modified to accommodate the reconfigured mission specific KH-10 reconnaissance camera design and operations. In all probability the pods would have been dropped for those missions and perhaps the docking interface systems for weigh and available space savings. There is also the question how this large manned platform could have been maneuvered to handle imaging targeting based on its known design details. This suggests that the reconnaissance imaging requirements had over time become considerable degraded from that which was desired and achieved through unmanned systems then in existence and that followed. This short coming was rectified in the 1966-1969 period.
KH-10 MOL Optical System
Very little has or will be released about the transitional KH-10 DORIAN Eastman Kodak mission reconnaissance imaging camera design. What little has been suggested beyond this was the display in MOL double mission art work of the parallel double barreled strip down KH-8 cameras used as a conceptual design from the conceptual KH-9 camera system and released information on the man tended Astronomical Telescope that was to be housed in the Mission Module. This Astronomical Telescope in turn was to be mounted on an experimental Handling Boom in the 1965 configuration . The USAF later gave the MOL main mirror lens to Arizona University for astronomical telescope use. This main lens mirror of the Eastman Kodak main imaging reconnaissance camera was to have a lens measuring 71 -72 inches across, and a theoretical resolution of four inches, reduced to nine inches by atmospheric distortion. How the film based imagery was to be on board processed and analyzed as well as returned to earth presumably required two or up to four General Electric (GE) return capsules also utilized on KH-9. Perhaps they were housed together in a similar to KH-9 configuration or as a optional part of the “escape pods”. However due to the space available constraints they had to be housed on the lower underside of the MOL station near the pressurized lab module . The large unoccupied space below the Transfer Tunnel in the standard un-pressurized Mission Module is clearly where the large primary reconnaissance camera would have to be housed in the 1965 configuration. Presumably the KH-10 reconnaissance telescope camera was to be an enlarge KH-8 design with it’s Kodak advanced lens drive scanning Optical Bar camera system with its forward rotating primary mirror and folding optics created images on large 5 or 9 inch wide format film. This produced images with greater detail with a resolution down to between 18 and 6 inches. The multi-position primary mirror had an approximate swath of 140 degrees giving it a fairly good slant angle imagery capability. That is the objects that were of that size of 6 – 18 inches or above on a side could readily be identified from the imagery.
Post 1965 Design Emphasis Change KH-10 Dorian
During the years 1965-66 through 1968 the MOL system had it primary mission changed refocusing it on a national reconnaissance imaging program requirement deleting or diverting many of its experiments to the evolving unmanned NSA Canyon, Rhyolite SIGINT dish programs spacecraft then in development, the ocean surveillance Parcae-White Cloud program and the satellite inspection program or to the NASA Skylab program then evolving.
If the MOL conceptual rear docking capabilities as well as the “Escape Capsule” pods were eliminated then the MOL could have been highly improved as a high resolution 71-72 inch diameters single primary mirror man tended telescope optical imaging national reconnaissance platform. This would eliminate the mass of the docking system and its EVA airlock as well as the “Escape Pods” and the extra rotating folding mirror as seen in the KH-8 optical system while lengthening the telescopes barrel changing its original design of 1965-66. By doing so at least two of its originally primary intended mission was effectively removed then the viability of the total manned system was brought into question. Although EVA could in part be permitted via the Gemini spacecraft with its support via the rear modules systems supplies but not the spacecraft descent modules systems supplies. This also changed the spacecraft orbital attitude from a horizontal position to a vertical position with the telescope facing the earth between zero and thirty degrees. When the decision was made to remove much of this and other USAF manned spaceflight experiments to other classified programs and the NASA Skylab program such as the “Experimental Beam”, manned maneuvering EVA unit and optical modules the usefulness of the manned spacecraft was reduced to a man tended high resolution KH-9 spacecraft platform concept. Whether this was intentionally done by NRO for a purpose is uncertain but it was effective over time. The hand writing was on the wall and the Nixon administration had made it mind up cutting back space activities for economic budgetary and developing policy restraints reasons.
By June 19, 1969 Henry A. Kissinger and others had made the decision to eliminate the manned part of the MOL due to funds cut backs and then to reassess the systems usefulness to the National Reconnaissance program. To say the least this reeked havoc on the MOL now KH-10 Dorian program design concept. With several very serious studies conducted between 1966 and 1969 on the impact of a manned crew in the loop on the MOL’s high resolution imagery quality forced the elimination of the manned crew tended part of the program in 1969. The total program was reduced to a high resolution KH-9 unmanned spacecraft mission that was years from being fielded at twice its original cost from $1.5 billion in 1965 to $3 billion in 1969. Additionally the KH-9 optical system could be operated in such a manner as to provide low to medium resolution imagery as required and it was little more than two years from flight verses the KH-10 Dorian revised unmanned system. In reality the USAF already had an operational high resolution imagery spacecraft the KH-8A-B Gambit series in the pipe line that was a highly successful proven system that was even originally considered for KH-9 Hexagon and MOL - KH-10 Dorian. Again the KH-8 series was cheaper and more readily available on demand than the unproven yet to fly KH-10 Dorian system duplicative capability the whole MOL- KH-10 Dorian program effectively folded on itself in the face of these design revisions. Thus on June 20, 1969 Assistant Secretary of Defense David Packard announced the termination of the MOL program. The USAF KH-8 Gambit series would continue to fly through April 1984 and KH-9 series was flown through March 1979 giving some insight into their viability utility verses MOL. References:
1. McDowell, Jonathan, US Reconnaissance Satellite Programs, Part-1, Quest, Summer 1995 pp. 22-33
2. SSB Satellite Support Bus, Lockheed Missile & Space Company pp. 1-20
3. Commercial Titan-III Users Manuel
4. Bus-1 Implementation Concept for Space Station Alpha, Lockheed Missile & Space Company, Inc., Nov. 25, 1993.,ppp1-4, 17-31, 64.
5. Day, Dwayne Allen, Sensitivity About Gambit And Hexagon Imagery Declassification, History of the Gambit and Hexagon Programs, The Recon Report September 20, 2000, FPSpace, Aug. 30, 2000.
6. Quick Facts about the KH-7 and KH-9 Mapping Imagery
7. Declassified MOL and Gemini – B design details & Declassified MOL Baseline Configuration studies
8. Day, Dwayne A., A Failed Phoenix: The KH-6 LANYARD Reconnaissance Satellite, Spaceflight, Vol. 39, May 1997, pp. 170-174.
9. KH-6 Camera System declassified NPIC document February 1963.
10. Day, Dwayne A, Pushing Iron Spaceflight, Vol. 46, July 2004, pp. 289-293.
Astrospies, corrected, by Dwayne A. Day, The Space Review, April 14, 2008
12. http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1057/1 ,
All along the watchtower, by Dwayne A. Day , The Space Review, February 11, 2008
13. Dr. John L. McLucas with Kenneth J. Alnwick and Lawrence R. Benson “Reflections of A Technocrat”, Air University Press, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama Aug. 2006
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