The scientific tourist #366 — Corona

Some ages ago, I posted a photo showing a diagram of a Corona satellite — the world’s first photo-reconnaissance system.  This time, you get some actual photos.  First, a reconstruction of a Corona satellite (on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.):

Corona film system

From the placard:

The camera system displayed here is a reconstructed KH-4B, which was used in the last five years (1967-1972) of the Corona program. The KH-4B was the most advanced Corona camera system developed, and objects as small as 2 meters on a side could be seen in its photographs.

Each of the two (stereo) cameras exposed a different roll of film. After half of each roll wound onto the two reels in the outer film return capsule, a blade cut the film and the capsule separated from the satellite and returned to Earth. The remaining half of each roll wound onto the two reels in the inner capsule, which also separated from the satellite after the reels were full.

Note that this reconstruction only includes one (shiny, gold-plated) return capsule — the outer one.  The inner one would originally have been roughly where the blue framework is in the center of the above photo, about midway between the cameras and outer capsule.

Meanwhile, over at the NASM’s Udvar-Hazy Center, you can get an up-close look at one of the film return capsules (a.k.a., “buckets”):

Corona Film Return Capsule

This was actually the inner portion of a return capsule — it would originally have been wrapped in a heat shield, with a closure plate and parachute system on its aft (here, top) end.  If you’d like a nearly hands-on encounter with Corona, the NRO now has an online interactive model of the system you can play with.

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