The SIGINT Satellite Story

The SIGINT Satellite Story is an important contribution to the preservation of national reconnaissance satellite history. Previous senior NRO leaders commissioned historical studies of early NRO programs to include Corona, Gambit, and Hexagon, which have since been declassified. Because the NRO had no authoritative histories of SIGINT satellite programs, NRO Founder Jimmie Hill commissioned The SIGINT Satellite Story. Unlike the earlier studies that focused on a single program, The SIGINT Satellite Story covers all signals satellite collection efforts from prior to the establishment of the NRO through the mid-1970s. The declassification of major elements of this history will allow more insight into satellite programs that provided enduring contributions to the preservation of U.S. security and securing of peace in the Cold War era.

The declassified version of The SIGINT Satellite Story offers insight into NRO efforts to develop and operate signals collection satellites in low earth orbits (LEO). Until the declassification of this history, the public has had limited insight into those programs. U.S. Intelligence Community members previously released details about the Samos, Grab, and Poppy signals collection efforts. This history will reveal more details about those important programs and their contributions to national security.

Readers of the declassified SIGINT Satellite Story will also learn about additional LEO signals collection efforts. The NRO recently declassified details about signals collection sensors flown on the Agena booster and control vehicle used with the photo reconnaissance satellites. These sensors gave us important insight into the USSR's ability to track U.S. satellites, as well as insight into radar coverage of the denied areas controlled by the USSR and its allies. The SIGINT Satellite Story also reveals efforts to maximize launch and space vehicle assets. In many instances, both imagery and signals collections capabilities were integrated into early missions. This integration testifies to both the ingenuity and frugality of early national reconnaissance personnel and leaders.

The conclusion to the history is largely intact after redactions and provides insight into efforts to maximize all potential orbits for national reconnaissance collection efforts. Details about programs launched into geosynchronous orbits are largely redacted, as well as more recent efforts to maximize signals collection from low earth orbit. Nonetheless, the summary of the history appropriately helps readers understand that satellite collection programs are not developed in isolation. Instead, they are developed to work in cohesive manner to assemble as comprehensive understanding of the intents and capabilities of U.S. adversaries as possible. Over time, additional information will be released concerning national reconnaissance programs and their contributions to winning the Cold War in years before and securing peace in the years ahead.

National Reconnaissance Office - Above and Beyond