The Air Force's antisatellite system was brought into being by Space Systems Division during late 1963 and early 1964. A ground-based system known as Program 437, it employed Thor missiles with nuclear warheads which could be shot into space accurately enough to destroy or disable a hostile space-based weapon or satellite.
Secretary of Defense McNamara approved the system's development on 20 November 1962. Thor boosters were modified, combined with ground equipment from deactivated Thor missile sites in England, and deployed to Johnston Island in the Pacific. There they were maintained and operated entirely by Air Force military personnel. Four test launches without live warheads took place, the first on 1 February 1964. Only three of them were successful, but the system was declared fully operational on 1 June 1964, with Air Defense Command as the using command.
The capability remained in place, though with few dedicated launchers and a temporary loss of warheads, until it was placed on 30-day standby status on 2 October 1970. The launch facilities on Johnston Island were deactivated on 1 April 1975, and the program was abandoned entirely.
While it was still active, however, SSD added a satellite-inspection capability to the system. On 23 May 1963, SSD's higher headquarters, Air Force Systems Command, ordered studies of the possibility of using Program 437's assets to inspect and photograph hostile satellites on orbit. SSD developed such a system, known as Program 437AP (for Alternate Payload), and conducted several test launches from 7 December 1965 through 2 July 1966. Some of the tests were successful in returning photographs of the targeted Agena spacecraft. The system employed cameras and recovery capsules developed by the Corona program. Nevertheless, the Air Force canceled Program 437AP on 30 November 1966.
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