Gallery: Declassified US Spy Satellite Photos & Designs

Giant HEXAGON Spy Satellite Revealed

Roger Guillemette/SPACE.com

The massive KH-9 Hexagon spy satellite on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, after being declassified on Sept. 17, 2011. Longer than a school bus at 60 feet in length and weighing 30,000 pounds at launch, 20 KH-9 Hexagons were launched by the National Reconnaissance Office between 1971 and 1986.

HEXAGON Spy Satellite Builder

Roger Guillemette/SPACE.com

Phil Pressel, one of the developers of the KH-9 Hexagon's panoramic camera system, proudly points out some of the spacecraft's once highly-classified features, a life's work that he had been unable to discuss publicly until the NRO's Sept. 17, 2011 declassification of the massive spy satellite.

Launch of a HEXAGON Spy Satellite

NRO

A Titan 3D rocket equipped with five-segment solid rocket boosters launches the spy satellite Hexagon Mission 1215 on March 16, 1979 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in this National Reconnaissance Office image.

HEXAGON Spy Satellite: Rear View

Roger Guillemette/SPACE.com

A rear view of the massive KH-9 Hexagon spy satellite on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, after being declassified on Sept. 17, 2011. Often referred to as "Big Bird," the KH-9 Hexagons were the largest spacecraft ever launched from California's Vandenberg AFB, each as big as a school bus, 60 feet in length and weighing 30,000 pounds at launch. Twenty KH-9 Hexagons were launched by the National Reconnaissance Office between 1971 and 1986.

HEXAGON Spysat Rear Engine View

Roger Guillemette/SPACE.com

A close look at the rear engine used on the National Reconnaissance Office's HEXAGON spy satellites during a display at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, Va., on Sept. 17, 2011.

NRO's HEXAGON Spysat Flight Profile

NRO

This graphic from a U.S. National Reconnaissance Office document depicts the flight profile of the massive HEXAGON spy satellite missions that flew from June 1971 to April 1986.

Imaging Technique of HEXAGON Spysats

NRO

This NRO image released on Sept. 17, 2011 shows the imaging field of view of the HEXAGON spy satellites, which were used on 20 space reconnaissance missions between 1971 and 1986.

NRO's HEXAGON Spysat Field of View

NRO

This image taken from a now-declassified National Reconnaissance Document illustrates the field of view of the HEXAGON spy satellites that flew on 20 missions between 1971 and 1986.

Launch of a GAMBIT 1 Spy Satellite

NRO

This NRO-provided image shows the launch of the GAMBIT 1 spy satellite on Mission G13 on Oct. 23, 1964 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

GAMBIT Spy Satellite Unveiled

Roger Guillemette/SPACE.com

An overhead view of the KH-7 GAMBIT spy satellite, prior to its public unveiling at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, on Sept. 17, 2011 after being declassified. The once top-secret spacecraft was displayed as part of the National Reconnaissance Office's 50th anniversary gala being held at the Center this evening. Thirty-eight KH-7 missions were launched from July 1963 to June 1967; its then-classified missions provided high-resolution photographic imaging of targets in the former Soviet Union and China.

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