Secret Cold War Spy Satellite Program Declassified by U.S.

A bit of Cold War space history hasbeen thawed.

The National Reconnaissance Office(NRO), National Security Agency (NSA) and Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) havedeclassified the fact that a series of satellites was orbited from 1962 through1971, designated POPPY.

POPPY's mission was to collect radaremissions from Soviet naval vessels - an activity called electronicintelligence, or ELINT for short.

In total, seven POPPY satelliteswere lofted into space from 1962 to 1971: Dec. 13, 1962, June 15, 1963, Jan.11, 1964, March 9, 1965, May 31, 1967, Sept. 30, 1969, and Dec. 14, 1971.

The POPPY Program operated fromDecember 1962 through August 1977.

Multi-agency system

Originally developed by the NRL,POPPY became a multi-agency system when the NRO was established in 1962,shortly before the satellite's first launch.

POPPY's average useful life on orbit was 34months and was the successor to the nation's first ELINT satellite, known as"GRAB" for Galactic Radiation and Background.

The POPPY system was designed todetect land based radar emitters and support ocean surveillance. In its sevenlaunches, "POPPY made tremendous contributions to the nation's security duringan especially perilous era," according to a press statement associated with theSeptember 12 declassification of the satellite system.

On display

The primary organizations thatsupported the POPPY effort included NRO (launch support); NSA (received,analyzed, and reported findings derived from the intercepted radar signals fromPOPPY); and the NRL (designed, developed, and operated POPPY satellites).

The Naval Security Group -- withsupport from Air Force Security Service and Army Security Agency -- coordinatedfield operations and maintained and operated POPPY ground sites.

In carrying out its spying duties,the POPPY program operated from December 1962 through August 1977.

The NSA has announced it will unveilin the future a POPPY model for permanent display in their National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade,Maryland.

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He was received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.