In the United States, most information available is on programs that existed up to 1972, as this information has been declassified due to its age. Some information about programs prior to that time is still classified, and a small amount of information is available on subsequent missions.
A few up-to-date reconnaissance satellite images have been declassified on occasion, or leaked, as in the case of KH-11 photographs which were sent to Jane's Defence Weekly in 1984.
On 16 March 1955, the United States Air Force officially ordered the development of an advanced reconnaissance satellite to provide continuous surveillance of "preselected areas of the Earth" in order "to determine the status of a potential enemy’s war-making capability".
There are several major types of reconnaissance satellite.
On 28 August 2013, it was thought that "a $1-billion high-powered spy satellite capable of snapping pictures detailed enough to distinguish the make and model of an automobile hundreds of miles below" was launched from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base using a Delta IV Heavy launcher, America's highest-payload space launch vehicle.
On 17 February 2014, a Russian Kosmos-1220 originally launched in 1980 and used for naval missile targeting until 1982, made an uncontrolled atmospheric entry.
...photo-reconnaissance satellites, for example, are enormously important in stabilizing world affairs and thereby make a significant contribution to the security of all nations.
Additionally, companies such as GeoEye and DigitalGlobe have provided commercial satellite imagery in support of natural disaster response and humanitarian missions.
During the 1950s, a Soviet hoax had led to American fears of a bomber gap. In 1968, after gaining satellite photography, the United States' intelligence agencies were able to state with certainty that "No new ICBM complexes have been established in the USSR during the past year." President Lyndon B. Johnson told a gathering in 1967:
I wouldn't want to be quoted on this ... We've spent $35 or $40 billion on the space program. And if nothing else had come out of it except the knowledge that we gained from space photography, it would be worth ten times what the whole program has cost. Because tonight we know how many missiles the enemy has and, it turned out, our guesses were way off. We were doing things we didn't need to do. We were building things we didn't need to build. We were harboring fears we didn't need to harbor.
Spy satellites are commonly seen in spy fiction and military fiction. Some works of fiction that focus specifically on spy satellites include:
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^Wright, Michael; Herron, Caroline Rand (8 December 1985). "Two Years for Morison". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
^Erickson, Mark (2005). Into the Unknown Together – The DOD, NASA, and Early Spaceflight(PDF). ISBN 1-58566-140-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 September 2009.
^reconnaissance satellite, Infoplease, retrieved 17 February 2014
^"The Navy's Spy Missions in Space". U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Archived from the original on 21 April 2019. Retrieved 21 April 2019. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
^Hennigan, W.J. (27 August 2013). "Monster rocket to blast off from Pacific coast, rattle Southland". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
^Melissa Goldin (17 February 2014). "Fragments of Soviet-Era Satellite Burn Up in Earth's Atmosphere". Mashable. Retrieved 17 February 2014.
^"The State of the Union Annual Message to the Congress". 1980 State of the Union Address. The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
^"Commercial Satellite Imagery Companies Partner with the U.S. Geological Survey in Support of the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters"". USGS Newsroon. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 4 April 2014.