Discoverer 14


Discoverer 14
Mission typeOptical reconnaissance
OperatorUS Air Force / NRO
Harvard designation1960 KAP
COSPAR ID1960-010A
SATCAT no.S00054
Mission duration1 day
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft typeCORONA KH-1
Launch mass810 kilograms (1,790 lb) after orbit insertion[1]: 236 
Start of mission
Launch date18 August 1960 19:57:08 (1960-08-18UTC19:57:08Z) GMT
RocketThor DM-21 Agena-A
(Thor 237)
Launch siteVandenberg LC 75-3-4
End of mission
Decay date16 September 1960 (1960-09-17)[2]
Landing date19 August 1960
Landing sitePacific Ocean (SRV)
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth
Perigee altitude186 kilometers (116 mi)
Apogee altitude805 kilometers (500 mi)
Period94.55 minutes
Epoch18 August 1960 19:55:00

Discoverer 14 , also known as Corona 9009,[1]: 236  was a spy satellite used in the Corona program managed by Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Department of Defense and the United States Air Force. On 19 August 1960, usable photographic film images of the Soviet Union taken by the satellite were recovered by a C-119 recovery aircraft. This was the first successful recovery of film from an orbiting satellite and the first mid-air recovery of an object returning from Earth orbit.


Thor Agena A with Discoverer 14

"Discoverer" was the civilian designation and cover for the Corona satellite photo-reconnaissance series of satellites managed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force. The primary goal of the satellites was to replace the U-2 spyplane in surveilling the Sino-Soviet Bloc, determining the disposition and speed of production of Soviet missiles and long-range bombers assess. The Corona program was also used to produce maps and charts for the Department of Defense and other US government mapping programs.[4]

The first series of Corona satellites were the Keyhole 1 (KH-1) satellites based on the Agena-A upper stage, which not only offered housing but whose engine provided attitude control in orbit. The KH-1 payload included the C (for Corona) single, vertical-looking, panoramic camera that scanned back and forth, exposing its film at a right angle to the line of flight.[5]: 26  The camera, built by Fairchild Camera and Instrument with a f/5.0 aperture and 61 centimetres (24 in) focal length, had a ground resolution of 12.9 metres (42 ft). Film was returned from orbit by a single General Electric Satellite Return Vehicle (SRV) constructed by General Electric. The SRV was equipped with an onboard small solid-fuel retro motor to deorbit at the end of the mission. Recovery of the capsule was done in mid-air by a specially equipped aircraft.[6]

The Discoverer program began with a series of three test flights whose satellites carried no cameras, all launched in the first half of 1959. There followed eight operational Discoverer satellites, all of them partial or complete failures,[1]: 236  though Discoverer 11, launched 15 April 1960, carried a new vacuum-resistant film and was the first mission on which the onboard camera worked properly. Discoverer 11 failed on reentry, caused by the explosion of its spin motor. Though Discoverer 12, a diagnostic flight to determine the causes of the various issues plaguing the program, was lost shortly after launch on 29 June 1960, the identical Discoverer 13 functioned perfectly during its 10–11 August mission. With Discoverer 14, operational missions would resume.[1]: 59 


The battery-powered[6] satellite was of similar configuration to prior Discoverers, being housed in an Agena-A stage and composed of a satellite bus and SRV equipped with the C camera. It massed 810 kilograms (1,790 lb)[1]: 236  Discoverer 14 carried 9.1 kilograms (20 lb) of film, half the full carrying capacity, but more than the 7.3 kilograms (16 lb) carried by Discoverer 11.[1]: 59  The satellite also carried a Transit on Discoverer (TOD) payload[7] designed to test orbital tracking techniques for the Transit navigational satellite program.[8]


Launched into a polar orbit[3] by a Thor-Agena A booster on 18 August 1960 at 19:55:00 GMT from Vandenberg LC 75-3-4 by a Thor DM-21 Agena-A rocket,[7] Discoverer 14 was incorrectly positioned at first and on the verge of tumbling during its first few orbits. Halfway through the scheduled flight period, the satellite stabilized, allowing normal operations. On 19 August 1960, over Alaska on the 17th pass around the Earth, Discoverer 14 ejected the SRV with its film roll fully used.[5]: 22–23  Retrorockets attached to the SRV fired to slow it for the return from orbit. Its parachute was sighted 360 miles (580 km) southwest of Honolulu[3] by the crew of a US Air Force C-119 recovery aircraft ("Pelican 9"), piloted by Captain Harold E. Mitchell, from the 6593rd Test Squadron based at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. The SRV was recovered in midair by the aircraft on its third pass, the first successful recovery of film from an orbiting satellite and the first aerial recovery of an object returning from Earth orbit. For this feat, Captain Mitchell was awarded the Bronze Star and his crew all received Air Medals.[5]: 24 

Mid-air film recovery.

Discoverer 14 disintegrated on reentry, 16 September 1960.[2]

Results and Legacy

The first reconnaissance picture made by a specialized satellite, depicting Mys Shmidta airfield, in Russia, on 18 August 1960.

With a single orbital mission, the Corona program was proven a conclusive success. The United States recovered broader photographic coverage of the Soviet Union from Discoverer 14 than had been achieved in all of the prior U-2 missions to date.[5] The Corona program went on to comprise 145 flights in eight satellite series, the last mission launching on 25 May 1972.[1]: 245  CORONA was declassified in 1995,[1]: 14  and a formal acknowledgement of the existence of US reconnaissance programs, past and present, was issued in September 1996.[1]: 4 

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Day, Dwayne A.; Logsdon, John M.; Latell, Brian (1998). Eye in the Sky: The Story of the Corona Spy Satellites. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press. ISBN 1-56098-830-4. OCLC 36783934.
  2. ^ a b McDowell, Jonathan. "Satellite Catalog". Jonathon's Space Report. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  3. ^ a b c "Discoverer 14". NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  4. ^ "Discoverer 1". NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive. Retrieved 24 October 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d "Corona: America's First Satellite Program" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. 1995. Retrieved 25 January 2020.
  6. ^ a b Krebs, Gunter. "KH-1 Corona". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  7. ^ a b McDowell, Jonathan. "Launch Log". Jonathon's Space Report. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  8. ^ Helen Gavaghan (1998). Something New Under the Sun Satellites and the Beginning of the Space Age. New York: Springer. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-4612-7218-2. OCLC 1159214844.