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MOL

Orionblamblam

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RLBH

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I think there must have been some muddled thinking here - if there was a lifting body craft for resupply, why use a Gemini capsule on the MOL itself?

And, of course, the arrangement wouldn't have worked for the ultimate MOL; the KH-10 optical system on the aft end would have scuppered it. But if the requirement for resupply existed a suitable configuration could no doubt have been found.
 

Michel Van

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But keep in mind that this was never taken very seriously. It was not the main part of MOL. Lots of things were considered for MOL and then discarded as MOL became focused entirely on its main mission and essentially split into manned and unmanned versions.
They study reuse of MOL after Mission
here the MOL core module has a docking system that after Gemini B returns to Earth,
able to dock another Gemini B with Resupply module for another 30 day mission

but this could also part for "MOL for NASA" effort, since most picture on that, show MOL with out Camera system and installed second Pressure volume...
 

Archibald

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Lifting bodies were NEVER part of MOL. Only Gemini B. This picture is clearly a Martin sale pitch to USAF but nothing official. The MOL was to use Gemini B all the way from 11/1963 to 06/1969.
 

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Lifting bodies were NEVER part of MOL. Only Gemini B. This picture is clearly a Martin sale pitch to USAF but nothing official. The MOL was to use Gemini B all the way from 11/1963 to 06/1969.
That's true. But I think this could even date from 1964. There were still some contractor pitches for MOL into 1965. The design was not immediately solidified.
 

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Just to add to the above, despite the fact that NRO declassified a huge amount of material on MOL, we still don't have a good indication of what the design was at what point. The large DORIAN camera system appears to have been part of the baseline by sometime in 1964, but I don't know if the records indicate exactly when. Once that was the baseline, then all those other concepts, like the multiple decks in the laboratory, were moot. But because NRO did not officially exist, and USAF could not talk about the reconnaissance payload, they could not say "All those concept images you see are wrong." And it is possible that some companies were still pitching their ideas publicly even after those decisions had been made.
 

Michel Van

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we still don't have a good indication of what the design was at what point.
The early NRO documentation around 1964 show much smaller MOL as 1968 system
The camera is compacter in drawings, a KH-4 Corona or KH-5 Argon ?
But in mean time a new camera systems were develop: the KH-8 Gambit-3 and KH-9 Hexagon (a backup program in case KH-8 failed ?)
What MOL aka KH-10 Dorian used seem to be improved KH-8 optics.
 

blackstar

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DORIAN was a LOT bigger than the KH-8, so I suspect that although it had the same overall layout as the KH-8, it was a lot different. Different materials for the mirrors, different structural bracing, and so on. Materials can behave differently from each other and depending upon the environment, and simply scaling up the KH-8 optics might have resulted in a mirror that behaved differently when constructed and then taken to zero-g. Put another way, a certain material might have been fine for a mirror with a diameter X, but not usable for a mirror with a diameter of 2X. (For example, one of the issues right now with designing a really large monolithic mirror to launch into space is that it is going to sag in gravity, and then un-sag in zero-g. The designers have to be able to accurately predict just how much it will un-sag once there is no gravity, and they have to be able to prove to independent reviewers that their predictions are accurate. How do you do that without actually flying a test article of the same size? That's a tough question.)

Details about these optics systems are still classified. For instance, I've seen references to some of the materials in the GAMBIT mirrors deleted in declassified documents. So they don't want anybody to know what materials they were using.
 
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Michel Van

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I extracted picture from NRO PDF

Proposed concept Vehicle
note that 1980s reusable booster look familial
FDL-5 or Lockheed mini starclipper...
 

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Archibald

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I've see that, too. Having done some research on L-301 and STAR-Clipper (which shared similar V-shaped drop tanks) this really looks similar. The timing is also correct: the two vehicle studies started in 1965-66 with Maxwell Hunter arrival at Lockheed. MOL was in full swing at that time. And don't forget, L-301 and STAR-clipper are little more than the usual paper projects... STAR-Clipper somewhat kickstarted NASA Space Shuttle in August 1968 (George Mueller at the BIS) while they build a mockup of L-301.

On paper at least - it could work.

Strap two LH2-LOX-LF2 V-shaped tanks on the sides of a MOL. Add an AMS-1 aerospike "engine module" on the rear bulkhead. Fire, go into orbit.

Can be done as a SSTO provided specific impulse is well past 465 seconds - 480, 500, up to 510 is feasible if LF2 is added to the classic hydrolox. Perhaps not a full blown 15 mt MOL but something a little lighter, 5 mt to 10 mt. "The end justify the mean". USAF would do it. Why ? because - no need for Vandenberg, SLC-6, and Titan III-M.

Obviously it would be insanely dangerous for the crew - even in the Gemini-B with an escape system.

The way I read the documents above, the more it reads like that.

"With AMS-1, aerospike and LF2 tech, a MOL could launch itself into orbit - 1.5STO style. Screw the Titan III-M"
 
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blackstar

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I extracted picture from NRO PDF

early MOL concept
Do you have dates for those documents? I'm pretty sure that they were going with the giant unpressurized camera section by the end of 1964. But like I noted earlier, some other concepts might have been floating around independent of the actual classified program.
 

Michel Van

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Do you have dates for those documents?
Only date on Document SSM-50 is this: Microflimed by TIM April 1964 for Status of June 1964

indication for early is that Gemini B is connected to MOL with inflatable tunnel
also show the Dokument a Titan IIIC as launcher for that MOL

during early 1965 they study use of Apollo CSM and Apollo X hardware for MOL
in may 1965 document the first MOL configuration we know, show up in document
September 1965 first mention of Titan IIIM
 
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Michel Van

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Hard to believe but true
USAF a order study for Use Apollo Hardware for MOL

Source NRO PDF nr°63

Study of Utilizing Apollo for the MOL Mission Volume II
prepared by the Applied Mechanics Division for Commander Space System Divison Air-force System command
11 Jaunary 1965
 

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blackstar

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Only date on Document SSM-50 is this: Microflimed by TIM April 1964 for Status of June 1964
Thanks, that makes sense. So it was early, and pretty much rejected by that time.

Somewhere buried in that big trove of MOL documents is something that indicates when they signed the major contracts for the spacecraft.
 

blackstar

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Hard to believe but true
USAF a order study for Use Apollo Hardware for MOL

Source NRO PDF nr°63

Study of Utilizing Apollo for the MOL Mission Volume II
prepared by the Applied Mechanics Division for Commander Space System Divison Air-force System command
11 Jaunary 1965
Although this study exists, I suspect it occurred after the major decisions had already been made for MOL. MOL ran into some congressional headwinds as people started to ask the entirely reasonable question of they the United States needed two different space stations and spacecraft if they were going to operate in Earth orbit. A similar question was asked about why MOL had to launch from California when there was a perfectly good launch pad in Florida. The answer "because we want to spy on the Soviet Union" was not one that they could use.
 

Archibald

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From 1964 to 1968 there were repeated atempts to merge the two programs: AAP wet workshop and MOL. Congress somewhat pushed for that.

NASA concede to USAF
- I can't see wet workshop turning into MOL. Even NASA never made it work.

- AAP 28 days orbital survey with an UPWARD module by contrast is close enough from MOL planned mission. Swap the UPWARD for a DORIAN, and you get it.

USAF concede to NASA
Say, the MOL tin can without the camera (and without the Gemini of course) as an Apollo mission module. That is: the military station passed to civilians.
Wait, sounds familiar ? Almaz & Salyut... the irony is strong there. Note that Salyut endurance record stands at 237 days = 8 months.
There are documents showing how the MOL pressure shell could have provided 80 cubic meters - which matches Salyut and Almaz habitable volumes. And funnily enough, the TKS VA capsule looked like a scaled down Apollo...
 

Michel Van

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From 1964 to 1968 there were repeated atempts to merge the two programs: AAP wet workshop and MOL. Congress somewhat pushed for that.
the NRO PDF nr°63
look into use of Saturn IB or Titan IIIC to launch those "Apollo MOL"

While Douglas try to sell MOL as Space station for NASA that just abandon MORL for AAP Wet Skylab and abandon that for Dry Skylab and remain of Apollo hardware...
Had some else run NASA and not Thomas o. Pain in that time
We could have Apollo 18&19 in 73 and series of MOL stations and Titan IIIF/centaur...

the military station passed to civilians.
note that USAF study reuse and resupply of MOL by Gemini B with supply
and some proposal show instead of KH-10 Camera system a second pressured Lab module

so why not for NASA ?
 

blackstar

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From 1964 to 1968 there were repeated attempts to merge the two programs: AAP wet workshop and MOL. Congress somewhat pushed for that.
My suspicion is that none of that was real. There was all this talk in the unclassified world, and meanwhile, NRO was just chugging along with MOL, signing contracts, making plans, etc., and they were never going to change their plans.
 

blackstar

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the NRO PDF nr°63
look into use of Saturn IB or Titan IIIC to launch those "Apollo MOL"

While Douglas try to sell MOL as Space station for NASA that just abandon MORL for AAP Wet Skylab and abandon that for Dry Skylab and remain of Apollo hardware...
Had some else run NASA and not Thomas o. Pain in that time
We could have Apollo 18&19 in 73 and series of MOL stations and Titan IIIF/centaur...

the military station passed to civilians.
note that USAF study reuse and resupply of MOL by Gemini B with supply
and some proposal show instead of KH-10 Camera system a second pressured Lab module

so why not for NASA ?
Except you have to keep some things in mind:

  • NRO was in charge of MOL, and MOL was all about building a reconnaissance platform. And they were having a very hard time simply getting to a point where they could build six of them. So all the other studies of other things to do with MOL--i.e. far future planning--didn't mean much because the people in charge were fighting simply to keep their program moving forward and not getting canceled. And they failed at that.

  • Meanwhile, NASA was doing Apollo. By around 1965, anything that was not focused on doing Apollo was getting cut back. AAP was a rather poorly run program for a number of years, with manifests that kept shifting and no clear idea of what they were going to do. At one time, AAP included monthly wet workshop launches and they were going to do things like weather observations via astronaut. So while there was talk about doing other missions, the reality was that by 1966/67 AAP was getting pared down and NASA was focusing mostly on landing on the Moon.
 

blackstar

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Had some else run NASA and not Thomas o. Pain in that time
We could have Apollo 18&19 in 73 and series of MOL stations and Titan IIIF/centaur...
I wanted to address this separately.

Thomas Paine was not the problem. Read John Logsdon's book "After Apollo?" Once the Nixon administration came into office in January 1969, they were looking to cut a lot of money out of the discretionary budget. Paine wanted to go to Mars. He was a NASA enthusiast. He wanted to do cool things. But the budget cutters were relentless. 18 and 19 got cut, but there was even talk of eliminating Apollos 15-17. And there was discussion of eliminating manned spaceflight entirely, and even getting rid of NASA. There were proposals in 1970 to change NASA into a technology and energy agency.

And Apollo 13 spooked Nixon. He thought that astronauts were going to get killed on another flight, so he kept asking why they needed to fly any more missions at all. He was open to canceling the rest of the Apollo missions.

I used to think that if Paine had not pushed people to talk about a Mars mission then maybe we could have gotten a lunar outpost or something like that. But after reading about what was being discussed at the time, I think we're lucky we got what we did. It could have been even less.
 

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Problem was, nobody wanted to suceed Webb, so close from JFK deadline - early 1969. Nixon asked Simon "TRW" Ramo and Bernard "ICBM" Schriever, but both declined the job. Paine assumed he would be sacked because of the LBJ - Nixon transition, but Nixon per lack of a better choice, kept him.
I wonder what a Schriever NASA would look like, and what would happen to the MOL (since it was some months before cancellation).
 

blackstar

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Problem was, nobody wanted to suceed Webb, so close from JFK deadline - early 1969. Nixon asked Simon "TRW" Ramo and Bernard "ICBM" Schriever, but both declined the job. Paine assumed he would be sacked because of the LBJ - Nixon transition, but Nixon per lack of a better choice, kept him.
I wonder what a Schriever NASA would look like, and what would happen to the MOL (since it was some months before cancellation).
But I think that's essentially irrelevant. The NASA administrator implements policy, but has only a limited role in making the policy. The problem was that the Nixon administration didn't care all that much about space. Nixon himself liked astronauts, but was indifferent to spaceflight. Many of the people around him didn't care about it and were also interested in cutting budgets back, and space was still a fat budget to cut. So they went after NASA rather severely to cut the budgets.

There's a great memo from around 1971 or so where Caspar Weinberger (who would become Secretary of Defense under Reagan) wrote to Nixon saying that they needed to continue human spaceflight and not eliminate it entirely, and he laid out several reasons. It was clear that Nixon's budget cutters wanted to eliminate it. Nixon wrote "I agree with Cap" on the side of the memo and that settled the issue. But the knives were out.

As for MOL, the big problem with MOL was that it was always a niche capability, and that niche kept getting smaller and smaller as the robotic reconnaissance satellites got better. One of the initial justifications for having astronauts on MOL was that they would focus and fine tune the optics. But within a year or so it was clear that automatic systems could do that and you did not need an astronaut for that. Then the argument was that the astronauts would prioritize the photography, going after the most important targets as they flew overhead. Although that was a legitimate role for an astronaut considering that a very-high-resolution camera could only photograph a few targets during each pass overhead, it was a rather unconvincing argument for many. Are those few photographs that they take really going to be so important that it justifies the expense of putting astronauts up there? MOL included an unmanned version from around 1966 or so, and that really undercut the argument--if it could fly unmanned, why did it need to fly manned?

But you also need to consider what MOL was competing with for money: the KH-9 HEXAGON was going to cover massive amounts of territory at pretty good resolution (note: the "2-3 feet" resolution in the unclassified documents is misleading: the best missions were way better than that). MOL was going to fly over the Soviet Union and stick little pins in the map in terms of coverage. By contrast, HEXAGON would fly over and cover everything in only a few days. HEXAGON could photograph--in a single image--two Soviet bomber bases a few hundred miles apart. It was massively powerful. That translated into a strong argument to make to the president: a HEXAGON mission could count every aircraft on every airfield in the Soviet Union in a few days; it could count every missile silo and every ship in port and almost every tank and armored vehicle. As a tool for assessing what the Soviet Union had in terms of weapons, and what it was about to do in terms of intentions (like invading a neighbor), it was unmatched. So when MOL and HEXAGON went head to head for funding in an administration that wanted to cut budgets, MOL was the weaker mission and it lost out.
 

Michel Van

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yes this was downfall of MOL
The program was run over by technological progress, special with KH-11 and 12
Also that MOL was consider in two modes Manned and Unmanned and issue can we use Apollo?
Next to that was issue with Capitol Hill why USAF need space station ?! while Nixon give a crap for the Space program...

Irony the soviet experiences same Issue with Almaz stations, but used them as Salut station for civilian Program, while later Almaz-T flew unmanned...
 

blackstar

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yes this was downfall of MOL
The program was run over by technological progress, special with KH-11 and 12
Also that MOL was consider in two modes Manned and Unmanned and issue can we use Apollo?
Next to that was issue with Capitol Hill why USAF need space station ?! while Nixon give a crap for the Space program...

Irony the soviet experiences same Issue with Almaz stations, but used them as Salut station for civilian Program, while later Almaz-T flew unmanned...
I think that MOL was almost doomed from the start. It was just hard to answer the question of what would the MOL astronauts do that was worth the cost of putting them into space. It is too bad that there was nobody going around at that time interviewing the people involved and asking them their opinions. I can imagine meetings where MOL was discussed and somebody would say "the astronauts can do X!" and a knowledgeable engineer would reply "We are already doing that in our lab on Earth and will test it in orbit in six months."

Back in the 1990s I interviewed a guy who was involved in training the MOL astronauts to interpret reconnaissance photographs. This was about 20 years before MOL was declassified, and he was not really supposed to talk about this stuff, but he did. He told me about a July 1967 briefing about MOL to the vice president, Hubert Humphrey. At the briefing, a senior officer was telling Humphrey about what MOL would do in space and how good its camera was. Sitting next to Humphrey was the Director of Central Intelligence, Richard Helms, who wrote something down on a piece of paper and slid it over to Humphrey, who read it but said nothing. After the briefing was over the group left the room but this guy I talked to said he hung back and grabbed that piece of paper, and on it Helms had written "Why four inches?" Four inches was the design resolution of the MOL DORIAN camera system, and the CIA thought that it was unnecessary, that they could do all the intelligence collection they needed with lower resolution.

So the funny thing for me is that in spring 2018 the NRO declassified a bunch of documents, and in the bunch was a document about this July 1967 meeting. I saw that and thought "Holy cow, this guy was right about there being a briefing then!" And I read through the document and although it did not mention the specific note-passing issue, it was consistent with this guy's memory. In fact, it stated that during his visit, Humphrey asked a number of tough questions about why they needed such a powerful camera system--possibly indicating that Helms' question on the note influenced Humphrey.

I wrote about that here, but it really was a case where some guy's memory of an event added some really interesting context to what was going on:

 

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The unmanned MOL is puzzling. How far along did it go and how did it differed from the manned one ?

Even unmanned the MOL would have duplicated the KH-8 which later established the all time resolution record of 2.3 inch (6 cm) with a 48 inch mirror and a Titan III-B. Instead of a 72 inch, 35000 pounds monster needing a far more expensive Titan III-M plus the Slick 6 launch pad. The GAMBIT 1 and 3 flew 92 times against a paltry 6 MOL planned missions.
 
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blackstar

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The unmanned MOL is puzzling. How far along did it go and how did it differed from the manned one ?

Even unmanned the MOL would have duplicated the KH-8 which later established the all time resolution record of 2.3 inch (6 cm) with a 48 inch mirror and a Titan III-B. Instead of a 72 inch, 35000 pounds monster needing a far more expensive Titan III-M plus the Slick 6 launch pad. The GAMBIT 1 and 3 flew 92 times against a paltry 6 MOL planned missions.
There are illustrations in the MOL documents. I've used them in some articles. It would have the same camera system, but up front instead of the pressurized compartment and the forebody and the Gemini, it would have about six reentry vehicles.
 

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I wonder if they ever thought about an "in between" - what NASA and ESA later called a "man tended" platform. That is: unmanned most of the time with brief visits by crews. Either using a Titan II Gemini B or an Apollo.
 

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I wonder if they ever thought about an "in between" - what NASA and ESA later called a "man tended" platform. That is: unmanned most of the time with brief visits by crews. Either using a Titan II Gemini B or an Apollo.
I think that's a legitimate question and option. But I have not seen any evidence that it was considered.

Soon after MOL was declassified there was an event at the Air Force Museum in Dayton and several of the MOL astronauts spoke about it. One of them was James Abrahamson, who later became a general and was in charge of SDI. Abrahamson told a great story. He said that soon after he was named as a MOL astronaut, the program suffered a setback and the general in charge asked the astronauts what they should do. Abrahamson said that they should reorient the program so that the very first mission was manned and operational, meaning no test flights. If you think about it, that's a very can-do fighter jock type of attitude. Abrahamson said that it was actually a mistake, because it pushed back the first launch even further. He said that he later learned when he was in charge of programs that it's more important to fly something, anything, early, in order to demonstrate progress. If you are just doing stuff on the ground, nobody knows about it and you are more vulnerable to cancellation.

(Note that NASA has not followed this lesson with regards to its human spaceflight program.)
 

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The unmanned MOL is puzzling. How far along did it go and how did it differed from the manned one ?
I will extract some picture of that Version
what i can tell now that Gemini and Supply section are replaced by system that carry several Return capsules

That is: unmanned most of the time with brief visits by crews.
They study that too launch unmanned visit by Resupply gemini occupy some time by a Crew
 

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Unexpected discovery
Remember the Picture (first) large Titan Mockup behind Ronald Reagan during one SDI speech ?

In NRO pdf Nr°347 i found this picture (second)
Can it be that this Mockup was Original a part of MOL program ?

USAF wanted to increase the payload
First increase first stage Diameter to 15 ft and install four engines with 15:1 expansion ratio (called Fat core Titan)
Interesting is that Fat core use 5 segment boosters instead of 7 segments solid
Later improvements use of 7 segment booster, increase diameter of second stage to 15 ft
Replace the Solid UA1207 by new 156 inch diameter Solids
 

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Note that the Titan III is *not* the III-M yet. But actually called "III-C 5-seg and 7-seg".
 

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There is indeed a remote link between old "Large Core Titan" mockup and the Zenith Star mockup 20 years later.
 

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I think this was the unmanned MOL. I count eight reentry vehicles. The blue circle indicates the film supply, green circle indicates where the film was exposed, and the red arrows show the film path to the reentry vehicles.
3461j.jpg
 

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It was really an orbital farm for industrial processing of soviet union pictures...
 

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Unmanned DORIAN (is it really MOL if it's neither manned nor a laboratory?) almost makes sense as a high-resolution inspection system to work alongside the medium-resolution wide-area search HEXAGON, in a similar way to GAMBIT alongside CORONA. If advancing technology meant that one system could do both jobs, and HEXAGON was some combination of further along and cheaper, the demise of DORIAN makes sense.

That said, the KENNEN system almost seems like an evolution of the DORIAN philosophy with electronic readout, rather than a direct HEXAGON successor.
 

blackstar

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Unmanned DORIAN (is it really MOL if it's neither manned nor a laboratory?) almost makes sense as a high-resolution inspection system to work alongside the medium-resolution wide-area search HEXAGON, in a similar way to GAMBIT alongside CORONA. If advancing technology meant that one system could do both jobs, and HEXAGON was some combination of further along and cheaper, the demise of DORIAN makes sense.
Some of the declassified documents indicate the debate that was underway and it's a little difficult to figure out because some stuff is still classified. But essentially, there was talk of a "very high resolution" reconnaissance system along with high and medium resolution. VHR seems to have been on the order of about 1-4 inches, high resolution was about 4-12 inches, and medium was 1-3 feet. So DORIAN was just on the edge of providing a VHR capability. But it appears that the CIA was not convinced that VHR was necessary and believed that 6-12 inches was sufficient for their needs. Also, the cost of obtaining VHR was rather high, so one could imagine that if somebody could make the case that it would not cost a lot more, the CIA might come around to supporting it. And GAMBIT-3 (KH-8) was already working and its resolution was steadily improving. We don't know what it was at what point, but it was probably better than 12 inches by the end of the 1960s and crept up throughout the 1970s.

That said, the KENNEN system almost seems like an evolution of the DORIAN philosophy with electronic readout, rather than a direct HEXAGON successor.
I think that KENNEN was a parallel development, not evolving out of DORIAN. Keep in mind that DORIAN was USAF's part of NRO (the Special Projects Office, or SAFSP), whereas KENNEN started as ZAMAN within the CIA part of the NRO.
 
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