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Air-launch from B-58 or A-12 OXCART - 1962

Archibald

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As said in the thread title.

There has been a whole bunch of declassified documents at the NRO and CIA websites.

I made a thorough research "from outside" using Google search function. Sometimes it is more efficient than the website internal seach engine (Google bettering the CIA and NRO... we are DOOMED !)

For example,
"air launch""B-58" site:www.nro.gov
"air launch""A-12" site:www.cia.gov

So, behold... first, results for the B-58 search.

Project TOWN HALL, 1962 plus some other files.

Next post, results for the A-12 / OXCART / AP-12 project.

EDIT:
crap, some documents are the same. With a different name. Damn it. Doesn't matter.
 

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Archibald

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Now the weird thing is: I checked the dates on these documents. Well - all of them are dated between March and September 1962.
This mean that something BIG was happening among the spooks that year: visibly they made a major effort to air-launch spysats from either the Mach 3 A-12 OXCART or the Mach 2 B-58 Hustler.

Basically:

B-58 + Polaris SLBM + camera package + film return capsule
A-12 + Polaris SLBM + camera package + film return capsule

I checked the weights of the SAMOS, CORONA, GAMBIT, ARGON and LANYARD cameras. Most of them weighed around 1000 pounds.

With a small air launch kick (1000 m/s) from the supersonic aircraft, plus a big, two-stage Polaris - it might be able to reach orbit, if barely.

The OXCART would have been faster but experience with the D-21 drone show it wouldn't be easy to deliver a Polaris in flight.
By contrast the Hustler giant belly pod had the exact same weight as a Polaris: a whopping 36000 pounds. There was room aplenty below the B-58 belly, since it had been build with a very slim fuselage, no bomb bay, and a giant fuel-bomb-pod.

Of course the B-58 was a bastard to fly, and General Lemay beloved baby, and in the public eye.

The A-12 by contrast was brand new and property of the spooks and CIA.
 
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Archibald

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What is remarquable with that system: it would have similar capabilities to General Schriever ISINGLASS / RHEINBERRY at far lower cost and risk.
Basically - if you want to shoot a camera package (say, a CORONA) into a suborbital arc or a single orbit - then why bother with a pilot and a rocketplane around it ?

What is a little frustrating (and uncomprehensible) with those studies: they planned to use a Polaris SLBM. Now, Lockheed had in store something far lighter AND part of very single spysat up to KH-9 in 1971: the ascent Agena.

Why didn't they thought of air-launching an Agena-spysat, is beyond me... far better performance at lighter weight than a freakkin' Polaris.

My calculations show that an Agena (= spy satellite bus of SAMOS, CORONA, GAMBIT, LANYARD and ARGON) could deliver into a 9200 m/s orbit a 1000 pound camera package from a supersonic air launch - if a solid-fuel booster was added. Nothing as big as a two-stage, 36000 pounds Polaris. A Castor, Algol or even a Skybolt could do the job.

Something like

B-58+solid-fuel booster + ascent Agena + 1000 pounds camera package
or
A-12 + solid-fuel booster + ascent Agena + 1000 pounds camera package
 
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Archibald

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Doesn't change my point - except there are a bit less B-58 documents available than I thought. The two studies still happened at the same time - in spring / summer 1962.

B-58 documents, reloaded (like the Matrix).
 

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sferrin

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Now the weird thing is: I checked the dates on these documents. Well - all of them are dated between March and September 1962.
This mean that something BIG was happening among the spooks that year: visibly they made a major effort to air-launch spysats from either the Mach 3 A-12 OXCART or the Mach 2 B-58 Hustler.

Basically:

B-58 + Polaris SLBM + camera package + film return capsule
A-12 + Polaris SLBM + camera package + film return capsule

I checked the weights of the SAMOS, CORONA, GAMBIT, ARGON and LANYARD cameras. Most of them weighed around 1000 pounds.

With a small air launch kick (1000 m/s) from the supersonic aircraft, plus a big, two-stage Polaris - it might be able to reach orbit, if barely.

The OXCART would have been faster but experience with the D-21 drone show it wouldn't be easy to deliver a Polaris in flight.
By contrast the Hustler giant belly pod had the exact same weight as a Polaris: a whopping 36000 pounds. There was room aplenty below the B-58 belly, since it had been build with a very slim fuselage, no bomb bay, and a giant fuel-bomb-pod.

Of course the B-58 was a bastard to fly, and General Lemay beloved baby, and in the public eye.

The A-12 by contrast was brand new and property of the spooks and CIA.
Town Hall there uses the Minuteman. :eek:
 

Archibald

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Yup ! Pretty heavy for a B-58... they found the max load an unmodified Hustler could carry was 51 000 pounds. The Minuteman (even first stage only) weights a bit more than that...

So, at the end of the day... the B-58 papers come first, quickly followed by the A-12. Whether they are related or not, I don't know, but there are some troubling coincidences...

Considering the facts that
a) the B-58 was USAF and the A-12 was CIA
and
b) the two services were locked into a deadly CORONA-vs-Samos knife-fight that led to the creation of the NRO that year, 1962...

Maybe it is a case of "Air Force shot first" and then the CIA reacted "let's do the same thing just to piss them off."

AL-1962 titles.png
 
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blackstar

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Have you come across the one showing an air launch from a C-130? I remember seeing that in the CREST documents over a decade ago.
 

blackstar

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Now the weird thing is: I checked the dates on these documents. Well - all of them are dated between March and September 1962.
This mean that something BIG was happening among the spooks that year: visibly they made a major effort to air-launch spysats from either the Mach 3 A-12 OXCART or the Mach 2 B-58 Hustler.
This was probably around the same time as the failures of the Samos E-6. E-6 was intended to be covert, with the rather ridiculous cover story that it was an orbital nuclear weapon. If you're going to come up with a cover story, it should be less interesting and less scary than the actual mission, not more.

The problem with all these proposals is that the camera they would have orbited would have had less capability than the KH-3 (single camera) CORONA. I can also envision some operational problems as well, such as prepping the system on the ground and then having confidence that it will work after it's gotten cold being hauled into the upper atmosphere. But they probably never got to the point where they had to think about that stuff.

I also imagine that there was some kind of bureaucratic issue going on with these. They strike me as the kind of thing that USAF would push and NRO would oppose. We don't know what organizations and people were behind these things.
 

Archibald

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I will look for the C-130 one...
 

Archibald

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I never quite understood Samos. So many variants... so many failures !! seems to have been a complete mess... add to that, CORONA ARGON LANYARD - so many parallel spysat programs... !!
what the heck happened to WS-117L ? once uppon a time in 1955-57 it was mostly alone... and then, boom, all these competing programs...
 

Archibald

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I made some calculations for a C-130 launch system.

Solid-fuel stage 1 + storable prop stage 2 = a 20 mt rocket (20 mt is an Hercules max payload, at least approximatively).

Dropped from an Herc' - and boom, 600 pounds to Earth orbit. Payload halved if the second stage is solid-fuel, too.

The PanCam in Apollo SIM bay was 336 pounds, and a CORONA film bucket was 300 pounds, too. So that's a doable, on paper at least...
 
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blackstar

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I never quite understood Samos. So many variants... so many failures !! seems to have been a complete mess... add to that, CORONA ARGON LANYARD - so many parallel spysat programs... !!
what the heck happened to WS-117L ? once uppon a time in 1955-57 it was mostly alone... and then, boom, all these competing programs...
Samos is a tough one, and I've thought about writing a detailed article about it. The simplest way to understand it is that Samos E-1 and E-2 were the readout systems. E-1 was primarily just a proof of concept, not intended to be the operational system, and it was superseded by E-2. Even as E-2 was getting ready to fly, USAF officials realized that it just was not going to meet their needs. It would not produce enough images. I think it was going to produce something like 20-30 images per day over a month, whereas a CORONA would fly for a few days and return thousands of images, covering a lot more territory. Yeah, those images would be a few days old by the time somebody looked at them, but you'd have thousands of them.

E-5 and E-6 were the recoverable satellite programs, and they started once it became clear that E-2 was not going to work (and could not be made to work). E-6 was essentially intended to be a CORONA replacement, but it never worked right. E-5 is a more complex and interesting story. USAF had been told by the president that it could not have a manned space capsule program. But General Schriever did not like that, so he had them build a pressurized spacecraft big enough to hold a single astronaut, and told them to put a camera inside of it and called this the E-5. It was a way for USAF to keep its foot in the door to eventually take that camera out and put an astronaut inside. But again, the capsule did not work right and the program got canceled. The E-5 camera was a compromised design. It wasn't good. Back in the early 2000s I interviewed the camera designer and told him about this and he was shocked, but also thrilled to finally know the answer. He said that the whole time they were working on the camera they couldn't understand why USAF was making them do it in such a crappy way.

The E-5 example in many ways typifies the bigger issue that was going on. The CIA and the intelligence community (the photo-reconnaissance experts) had a very clear end goal: get the best possible intelligence about the Soviet Union. Their sub-goals flowed from that: build the best possible camera; build the best possible (most reliable) recovery system. In contrast, the Air Force had ulterior motives, like competing with NASA to launch astronauts into space.

Unfortunately, the E-5 story is really murky and unknown. There's not a lot of data about what was really going on with it. It's too bad that nobody was ever able to interview the people involved to find out what they thought. But there's a document in that CREST collection where a CIA official refers to E-5 with a bit of scorn as this Air Force project that is more about flying an astronaut than taking photos, so it's clear that CIA did not think too highly of that. I suspect that if Eisenhower had known about E-5, he would have been very annoyed, because it typified what he thought of the military's approach to strategic intelligence (always in it for themselves).


Oh, and to answer the next question you'll ask: E-3 was mostly a paper project that was intended to develop better read-out techniques and never got anywhere. E-4 was a mapping camera system that supposedly did produce hardware, but there are no illustrations or photos. Indeed, one very annoying thing about the entire Samos program is that there are very few photos of the hardware. You would think that they would have taken photos of the E-5 and E-6 satellites being loaded onto their rockets, but nothing has ever turned up.
 

blackstar

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what the heck happened to WS-117L ? once uppon a time in 1955-57 it was mostly alone... and then, boom, all these competing programs...
WS-117L split into SENTRY, MIDAS and DISOCOVERER (a cover for CORONA). SENTRY then became SAMOS E-1, E-2, and so on. So You can view WS-117L as the overall mother/umbrella program, not as competing with these other programs.
 

Archibald

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They were lucky to have massive amounts of money flowing into the reconnaissance satellite program(s)...
 

Archibald

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I will look for the C-130 one...
I have it in paper form somewhere, but I have so much of that stuff that I don't know where to look. I remember that it had a few illustrations.
Couldn't find it either... except mentionned by Richelson in a document about "stealth" satellites.

Air-launch is pretty bad for payload, but SLBMs are even worse. No way to send anything in orbit with that.

Now a suborbital camera package with a small reentry vehicle, shot from a submarine above the Soviet Union, and recovered in the Pacific...

Let's say - a submarine in the Barents sea lobs a Poseidon or Trident SLBM with the warheads replaced by a reconnaissance package, inside the RV. The package flies into a ballistic arc, snaps some pictures of Baikonur or Semipalatinsk or Lop-Nor, and then splashdown near Guam or Hawaii.

Not very efficient and a real risk to make the Soviets a little nervous... or maybe just hide the whole thing as, well, a flight test of a Poseidon missile. THIS is allowed.

Can't remember which US satellite recovered the camera with the film in the reentry vehicle. The Soviets Zenit did it, for sure. Must be feasible to tweak a MIRV this way and send it in suborbital flight with a SLBM.
 

blackstar

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I will look for the C-130 one...
I have it in paper form somewhere, but I have so much of that stuff that I don't know where to look. I remember that it had a few illustrations.
Couldn't find it either... except mentionned by Richelson in a document about "stealth" satellites.
It has been a long time since I've seen it. I think somebody posted here a cutaway image of ISINGLASS or something like that with a single CORONA camera lens system in it pointing down. Same general goal, although a few years later.

There is some mention, maybe in one of the Perry histories, about the desire for a "covert" satellite around 1962 or so. I think this stemmed from determining that the Soviets were using radar to track American reconnaissance satellites. So NRO knew that the Soviets were aware of the satellites overhead, and they decided that if a satellite could be launched from a non-fixed platform, it might be able to sneak up on the targets. The problem was that there was no way to get a powerful camera into a small launch vehicle. So at best you could get low-resolution images showing things that were not going to move anyway, like buildings. It might be useful to reveal ships in harbor or troop deployments, but that's a small subset of targets. It was just a niche capability that wasn't worth doing, so it died out in the first half of the sixties--meaning there were these few studies but not anything more.

Now an interesting and relevant question is how much anybody in the US intelligence community considered the value of indications and warning intelligence, i.e. the kind of intelligence that might reveal major activities before they happened, such as troop deployments. But I've found very little on this during this period. It seems like for the most part by the mid-1960s the intelligence community accepted that reconnaissance satellites were going to provide excellent intelligence on strategic forces (i.e. counting ICBM silos, bombers, subs, ships, nuclear weapons facilities) and they were happy with that. Nobody pushed for more timely intelligence during this period, meaning satellites that could return their imagery within 24 hours or so. It just was not considered.
 

Archibald

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Maybe take the E-5 film and camera system and put the whole thing into a Mk.12 reentry vehicle - conically shaped, 21.3 inches in diameter at its base and 71.3 inches long. Use Minuteman or Polaris to lob that into suborbital flight.

Also note, the Polaris A-3 was only 17 mt in weight. On paper at least a C-130H should be able to carry one and parachute it from the rear ramp (as done in '74 with some Minuteman stages from a C-5).


There were many possible combinations of aircraft, rockets, reentry vehicles, and cameras. Whether the whole idea make sense (or not) the engineers must have had some fun.
 

Byeman

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Maybe take the E-5 film and camera system and put the whole thing into a Mk.12 reentry vehicle - conically shaped, 21.3 inches in diameter at its base and 71.3 inches long. Use Minuteman or Polaris to lob that into suborbital flight.


There were many possible combinations of aircraft, rockets, reentry vehicles, and cameras. Whether the whole idea make sense (or not) the engineers must have had some fun.
Not really doable with a small entry vehicle and suborbital lob. ICBM/IRBM trajectories (suborbital lobs) typically have a peak altitudes of around 1000 miles. Small RV means small camera. Small camera and high altitude mean low resolution photos.
 

Byeman

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What is a little frustrating (and uncomprehensible) with those studies: they planned to use a Polaris SLBM. Now, Lockheed had in store something far lighter AND part of very single spysat up to KH-9 in 1971: the ascent Agena.
No. Ascent Agena was not part of part of very single spysat up to KH-9 in 1971. The very name Ascent Agena means it was used solely as an upper stage and not spacecraft bus. Ascent was used for launching SDS and Jumpseat on Titan IIIBs.

A Polarisw SLBM had many times more total impulse than the Agena stage.
 

Archibald

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Yeah, my mistake. Anything else ?
 

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I think almost all of the above was available from Scott Lowther many years ago...
 

blackstar

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Maybe take the E-5 film and camera system
The E-5 was not a good camera. I heard that directly from its designer.

The philosophy that the US reconnaissance program took almost from the start was to maximize camera performance. Try to design the best possible camera, then design a spacecraft around it. Now certainly they started with certain parameters that locked them in--mass, volume, etc. But they were always trying to maximize the photography. E-5 started with the goal of a pressurized spacecraft, and that's not what the camera designers wanted.
 

blackstar

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It has been a long time since I've seen it. I think somebody posted here a cutaway image of ISINGLASS or something like that with a single CORONA camera lens system in it pointing down. Same general goal, although a few years later.
Yes, I'm responding to my own post. I found what I was thinking of. This was a 1963 proposal for an A-12 launch of a reconnaissance satellite.


You can see the CORONA camera in there. It looks pretty much the same as a schematic of a KH-3 CORONA. So the performance would have been essentially the same. And that raises the same question as for all these other air-launch proposals: what's the benefit? What's the advantage over the existing systems?

This would have flown with less film than a KH-3, so fewer pictures. It would probably have had a shorter lifetime, so less coverage of the ground. And if the answer is "it can sneak up on the Russkies," well, the camera was not able to see all that much, and it's not like the Soviets could move buildings around to hide them from the CORONA satellites. It might be useful at spotting aircraft at airfields and ships in shipyards. But by the time the film came back and was processed it was going to be a few days later anyway, so those aircraft and ships could have moved. I'm not saying zero value, but very little value, and at considerable cost (building the rocket and spacecraft and a dedicated plane to launch it). Plus, in the time it took to develop this thing, the rockets got bigger, the cameras got better, the film got lighter and so on, meaning that if it started flying in 1965 or 1966, the ground-launched satellites in operation then would have been even better.
 

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