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  Spy satellite imagery used to help save Skylab

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Author Topic:   Spy satellite imagery used to help save Skylab
Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 05-21-2013 03:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dwayne Day writes for The Space Review about a top secret spy satellite that was pressed into emergency service to help save the crippled NASA Skylab space station 40 years ago. The mission was a success, and a closely guarded secret, until a retired Air Force general decided to brag.
Major General David Bradburn, who was then the head of the Office of Special Projects, one of the NRO’s component offices and based in Los Angeles, quickly proposed that a GAMBIT-3 spacecraft, also known as the KH-8, readying for launch on May 16, be used to take a photograph of Skylab to assist NASA in planning a repair mission. The manned Skylab 2 mission, which had now become a repair mission, was scheduled to launch on May 25. That short turnaround time meant that the first phase of the GAMBIT’s photographic mission would have to be cut short in order to return the photos earlier so they could be used for planning the repair mission.

According to Bradburn, who spoke about the incident during an Air Force history symposium in 1995, he made the argument that Skylab was an American project and it was in the best interests of the nation that it not fail. This justified using an intelligence satellite to help save it, even if that undermined some of the intelligence collection. Bradburn’s proposal was approved by his superiors in the NRO and, presumably, by the Director of Central Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense.

Ronpur
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Posts: 211
From: Brandon, Fl
Registered: May 2012

posted 05-21-2013 06:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ronpur   Click Here to Email Ronpur     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Amazing, I wish we could see that photo when it gets declassified.

Headshot
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Posts: 182
From: Streamwood, IL USA
Registered: Feb 2012

posted 05-21-2013 07:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Very interesting.

I remember reading, in late May of 1973, a very brief comment that a cutting edge U.S. imaging asset was used to photograph the Skylab workshop before Conrad and his crew were launched. This was "confirmed" to me as I listened to Conrad describe the damaged workshop. He seemed excited, but not at all surprised by the extent of the damage.

I recall reading that the thin strap holding the solar panel wing to the workshop was visible in the images and that the asset used was ground-based.

Perhaps my memory is faulty, or there was more than one type of asset used to save Skylab.

I sure wish that I could find that darn article.

Jim Behling
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Posts: 537
From: Cape Canaveral, FL
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 05-21-2013 08:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The strap would not have been visible in any ground or space based photography. It wasn't even visible to the crew until they were fairly close.

moorouge
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Posts: 1490
From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 05-22-2013 01:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I can confirm that 'hi-tech' assets used to image Skylab were reported at the time, though the details were not elaborated upon in the reports that appeared in the press. An intelligent guess would have led one to realise that this had to be satellite based.

onesmallstep
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Posts: 508
From: Staten Island, New York USA
Registered: Nov 2007

posted 05-22-2013 10:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for onesmallstep   Click Here to Email onesmallstep     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If only some of those advanced 'assets' were used before Columbia's fatal reentry in 2003, things might have turned out very differently. A tragedy and a shame.

Dwight
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Posts: 468
From: Germany
Registered: Dec 2003

posted 05-22-2013 11:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwight   Click Here to Email Dwight     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Page 152 of "Brassey's Air Power: Aircraft Weapons Systems and Technology Series Volume 10 - Military Space" ISBN 0-08-037347-X contains a photo made by the Air force Maui Optical Station 1.6 metre telescope operated by Avco Research Laboratory' a ground based telescope. This was the only imaging I found in hundreds of documents I have read in researching my Skylab project. While more than one method may have been used to image Skylab, is it not also possible that those involved have hazy memories?

Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 05-22-2013 11:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dwight:
While more than one method may have been used to image Skylab, is it not also possible that those involved have hazy memories?
The Space Review's article includes mention of the ground based telescope imagery as a separate asset.

Dwight
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Posts: 468
From: Germany
Registered: Dec 2003

posted 05-22-2013 12:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwight   Click Here to Email Dwight     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That, then, makes this revelation all the more interesting. The Maui photo shows the failed solar array clearly not deployed, though it is very grainy. I wonder how the satellite image looks in comparison.

Jim Behling
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Posts: 537
From: Cape Canaveral, FL
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 05-22-2013 12:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Maui photo was taken after the EVA to fix the remaining array. The array is in the deployed position in the photo.

Blackarrow
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Posts: 2024
From: Belfast, United Kingdom
Registered: Feb 2002

posted 05-25-2013 12:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
On 20th May, 1973, the London "Sunday Times" (referring to the status of Skylab's main solar arrays) reported:

"Some pictures taken with the Defence Department's secret camera may show the state of the booms, but NASA refuses to reveal what they show."

A week later, the 28th May edition of "Time" made no mention of any "secret" pictures in a long report on Skylab's troubled launch.

Headshot
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Posts: 182
From: Streamwood, IL USA
Registered: Feb 2012

posted 05-28-2013 06:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Although this is not the article to which I refer earlier in this thread, a side box in the May 21, 1973 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology offers the following:
>USAF tracking cameras in New Mexico successfully photographed the crippled Skylab workshop after it was placed in orbit. The photos were being used in conjunction with the planning of emergency repair operations by NASA.

USAF refused to permit NASA to release the photographs on the grounds that it would reveal the U.S. capability to photograph objects in Earth orbit.

All times are CT (US)

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