KH-5 Argon


KH-5 ARGON was a series of reconnaissance satellites produced by the United States from February 1961 to August 1964. The KH-5 operated similarly to the CORONA series of satellites, as it ejected a canister of photographic film. At least 12 missions were attempted, but at least 7 resulted in failure. The satellite was manufactured by Lockheed. Launches used Thor-Agena launch vehicles flying from Vandenberg Air Force Base, with the payload being integrated into the Agena.

KH-5 Argon
ManufacturerLockheed Corporation
Country of originUnited States
Geodetic mapping
BusRM-81 Agena
Launch mass1,274 kg (2,809 lb)
EquipmentOptical cameras
556 x 556 km coverage
140 m resolution
Related spacecraft
Derived fromCORONA
A KH 5 ARGON (with Agena-B service module) main features.
A KH 5 ARGON (with Agena-D service module) main features.


Different versions of the satellite varied in mass from 1,110 to 1,500 kg (2,450 to 3,310 lb). At least two missions deployed ELINT subsatellites. Ground resolution for the satellite was 140 m (460 ft), with a swath of 556 km (345 mi). The onboard camera had a focal length of 76 mm. The purpose of the system, which produced relatively low-resolution images compared to other spy satellites, was to provide imagery for cartography purposes. This was one of the tasks that had originally been planned for the SAMOS series of satellites equipped with the (quickly cancelled) E-4 cameras. Each satellite took photographs for less than a week before returning its film.

The satellite was in use during the same period as the KH-2 to KH-4A CORONA and the KH-6 LANYARD satellites. Later satellites were the KH-4B and KH-7 GAMBIT. Images from three of the successful missions returned the first images of Antarctica from space.[1]


Discoverer 20 (KH-5 9014A), was a USAF photographic reconnaissance satellite under the supervision of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Discoverer 20 was the first KH-5 ARGON satellite to be launched. The launch occurred at 20:24:00 GMT on 17 February 1961. A Thor DM-21 Agena-B launch vehicle was used, flying from LC 75-3-4 at the Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was assigned the Harvard designation 1961 Epsilon 1. Discoverer 20 was operated in an Earth orbit, with a perigee of 283 km (176 mi), an apogee of 770 km (480 mi), 80.91° of inclination, and a period of 95.81 minutes. The satellite was equipped with a camera with a focal length of 76 mm, which had a resolution of 140 m (460 ft). Images were recorded onto 127 mm film, and were to have been returned in a Satellite Recovery Vehicle (SRV) before the satellite ceased operations. The satellite weighed 1,110 kg (2,450 lb). Recovery of the capsule was not attempted due to a system malfunction, and thus the scientific experiment data obtained were limited. Discoverer 20 decayed on 28 July 1962.[2]


Name Launch Date NSSDC ID Alt Name Alt Name Mass (kg) Decay Date Notes
KH-5 9014A 1961-02-17 1961-005A Discoverer 20 1961 Epsillon 1 1110 1962-07-28 Film capsule not ejected.
KH-5 9016A 1961-04-08 1961-011A Discoverer 23 1961 Lambda 1 1150 1962-04-16 Film capsule ejected into wrong orbit, not recovered.
KH-5 9018A 1961-06-08 DISC24 Discoverer 24 1961-F05 1150 --- Failed to orbit.
KH-5 9020A 1961-07-21 DISC27 Discoverer 27 1961-F07 1150 --- Failed to orbit.
KH-5 9034A 1962-05-15 1962-018A FTV 1126 1962 Sigma 1150 1962-06-20 Successful.
KH-5 9042A 1962-09-01 1962-044A FTV 1132 1962 A Upsillon 1150 1962-10-01 Film capsule sank.
KH-5 9046A 1962-10-09 1962-053A FTV 1134 1962 B Epsillon 1500 1962-10-17 Successful.
KH-5 9055A 1963-04-26 1963-004X OPS 1008 1963-F07 1150 --- Failed to orbit.
KH-5 9058A 1963-08-29 1963-035A OPS 1561 1000 1963-09-30 Successful; deployed ELINT subsatellite.
KH-5 9059A 1963-10-29 1963-042A OPS 2437 1500 1963-11-29 Successful; deployed ELINT subsatellite.
KH-5 9065A 1964-06-13 1964-030A OPS 3236 1500 1964-07-14 Successful.
KH-5 9066A 1964-08-21 1964-048A OPS 2739 1500 1964-09-20 Successful.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bindschadler, Robert; Seider, Wendy (1 November 1998). Declassified Intelligence Satellite Photography (DISP) Coverage of Antarctica (PDF). NASA/TM-1998-206879 (Report). NASA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 May 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2021.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ "Discover 20". Retrieved 26 September 2021.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  • Mark Wade (August 9, 2003) KH-5 Encyclopedia Astronautica
  • KH-5 ARGON