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Satellite Reconnaissance: Secret Eyes in Space

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Discoverer / Corona
Corona's Mission
Corona and the Cold War
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The goal of the Corona project was to take detailed photographs of large areas of the Earth from orbit. To do this, the project team had to meet three major technical challenges:
  • Design a camera able to take high- quality photographs from an altitude of more than 160 kilometers (100 miles) while moving faster than 27,000 kilometers (17,000 miles) per hour relative to the ground.
  • Point the camera and keep it steady while taking sharp pictures of specific sites.
  • Return the exposed film safely to Earth.
Artist concept of Corona in space
NARA#: 54, RG 263
Dozens of companies and many thousands of people labored in secret to develop and operate the technologies for Corona.


The camera displayed here is a reconstructed KH-4B, the type used in the Corona project during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Objects as small as 2 meters (6 feet) across could be seen in photographs taken by this camera. It was declassified and donated to the Smithsonian in 1995.

Gift of the National Reconnaissance Office

Corona Camera in Gallery
188 k jpeg
SI#: 97-15881

Corona Launch
78 k jpeg
Reproduction not available
Camera manufacturer: Itek Corp.
Launch vehicle: Thor-Agena
Vehicle manufacturer: Lockheed
Camera tech label graphic: KH-4B schematic
153 k jpeg
NARA#: 57, RG 263

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