Part of -
From the Sea to the Stars:
A History of U.S. Navy Space and Space-Related Activities

by Gary Federici

By permission of the author and with the support of NR SPAWAR HQ 0866

June 1997

Chapter 2: Satellites for Strategic Defense, 1961­1970

2.1  A major setback for the Navy space program

2.1.1  The 1961 decision

After President Kennedy was elected, but before he took office in 1961, he appointed an "Ad Hoc Committee on Space", headed by Jerome Wiesner of MIL to examine the national space program and recommend space policies for the future.  The Wiesner Committee reported, on 10 January 1961, that the U.S. was lagging behind the Soviet Union in missile and space technology and attributed this to duplication and lack of coordination among NASA, DOD, and the three services.  The committee's report deplored the tendency of each military service to create independent space programs, and called for the establishment of a single point of responsibility for space programs among the military services.

The Secretary of the Air Force was reportedly promised at that time by the Deputy Secretary of Defense that the Air Force would be given the space mission, on condition it would "put its house in order" (a reference to the fact that Air Force RDT&E was not centralized).  As a result, the Air Force Systems Command was created on 1 April 1961.1

The new Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, directed OSD to review the responsibility for military space R&D.  A far-reaching Defense Directive (No. 5160.32) on Development of Space Systems was issued on 6 March 1961.  Under this new directive, the Air Force was assigned responsibility for development and acquisition of all future U.S. military space systems.  Each of the services was permitted to conduct basic research on new ways of using space technology.  Any proposals for advanced development based on this research would be reviewed by the DOD DDR&E and, if given final approval by SECDEF, would be assigned (except under certain conditions) to the Air Force for implementation.  Further, on 28 March 1961, the Air Force was given responsibility for research, development, and operation of all future DOD (but not CIA) imaging reconnaissance satellite systems.

1.  . F. Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: A History of Basic Thinking in the U.S. Air Force, Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, pages 385-6.

2.1.2 Navy caught completely by surprise

The 6 March 1961 DOD Directive came without any apparent warning to the Navy.  The Chief of Naval Operations and his senior advisors on the OPNAV staff, as well as the civilian planners in the office of the Secretary of the Navy, were caught by surprise by the decision to turn all future military space-systems acquisition over to the Air Force.  The Navy's space programs for 1962-65 had been approved by DOD and Congress, the Navy's five-year plan and budget for space-systems acquisition had been approved and funded, and there seemed to be strong support at all levels for the Navy's program in space.

2.1.3 Impact 

In 1962, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO) sponsored a study to recommend policy and resource allocations for Navy space programs.  The study concluded that the Navy should concentrate on systems which would enhance global operations and sea control, augment national efforts where Navy had a demonstrated capability, and where possible, meet Navy requirements by participation in National programs.  The only new system proposed was as ocean surveillance satellite system.  Little action followed, and CNO disestablished OP-54 in 1964.  However, OP-76 continued to exist for space RDT&E, eventually evolving into the Command and Control Development Division (OP-098).  Also in 1964, the Navy Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) Field Office was created at the Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO), which is now the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Command, Los Angeles.  This office supported the Navy MOL program until MOL demise in 1967, and was renamed the Navy Space Systems Activity in July 1986, as MOL declined and joint programs at SAMSO demanded Navy interest.

Perhaps the greatest impact of the 1961 directive on the Navy was its effect on those military and civilian personnel in the Department of the Navy who were caught up in the personal excitement and pro­fessional interest associated with space activities.  Approximately 200 of these people left the Navy to work for NASA during the early 1960s.

2.2 The Transit Navigational System goes operational

The successful demonstration of all the elements of an opera­tional satellite navigation system was completed with the experimen­tal Transit satellites 4A and 4B in the fall of 1961. The decision was made in early 1962 to build and deploy an operational system.

The concept called for a constellation of four or five satellites orbiting the earth at a relatively low altitude (about 600 nautical miles).  Each satellite would send out radio signals from which users within line-of-sight could determine the position of the satellite at any moment.  By measuring the Doppler shift of the radio signal as a satellite passed by, each user could determine his position relative to the satellite along a hyperbolic line on the Earth's surface.  By similarly determining his position from a second Transit satellite, the user could determine his position on the Earth's surface at the intersection of the two hyperbolic lines.

Navigational data stored in each satellite's memory would be kept accurate by updating it periodically with computations transmitted from a ground station, based on tracking data gathered by multiple ground stations. The initial goal for navigational accuracy using the Transit system was half a nautical mile; as the development progressed, however, the accuracy turned out to be much better (about 25 meters).

In keeping with the early 1960s U.S. policy of secrecy concerning any satellite having military applications, DOD derided that program names such as "Transit" could be too revealing and banned further use of words for military space programs.  What had been the "Transit" Program now became "Program 435."  Not long after that, the program received its ultimately revealing name, the "Navy Navigation Satellite System (NNSS)."  But official names notwithstanding, nearly everyone, inside the Navy and out, simply continued to call the satellite navigation system "Transit."

2.2.1  Operational Transit tracking stations

Four tracking stations for the operational Transit system were constructed in Hawaii, California, Minnesota, and Maine. The computing center for the system was collocated with the tracking station at Point Mugu, California, as was the facility for transmitting the data to update satellite memories.  This facility was managed by the Navy Astronautics Group, the first military space operations command.

To help make the Transit system survivable in the event of nuclear war, a backup computational and transmission station was located and maintained operationally ready in Maryland (using the Transit equipment at APL that had been built for the prototype development).

2.2.2 Transit users' terminals

The Applied Physics Laboratory developed the navigation equipment to be used by Navy and other shipboard users.  The equipments were of three types:

2.2.3  Prototype operational Transit satellites ("Oscar" series)

Because of the success of the prototype Transit satellites, the Navy in 1964 decided to go directly into prototype operations with a series of Transit satellites called Oscar. 

The first three satellites in the Oscar series were built by the Naval Avionics Facility at Indianapolis. There were production problems, and the satellites built there had operating lifetimes of only a few weeks, which was unacceptably short.  It was determined that production should be transitioned back to the Applied Physics Laboratory.  Nine of the Oscar satellites were produced and launched by APL, beginning 24 June 1965.  The first five of these each had operational lifetimes of less than a year. It was determined that they failed due to thermal stresses caused by the repeated passing into and out of the Earth's shadow.  This problem was solved by the time that Oscar 12 was launched, in April 1967.  Oscar-12 attained an operational lifetime of more than twelve years, and subsequent Oscars have operated much longer than that.

Oscar-14, launched 25 September 1967, was the last of the prototype operational navigation satellites. APL built and launched four additional experimental satellites from 1972-77.  Of these, Oscar-11/TRANSIT (launched 28 October 1977) served a dual role as a navigation satellite and a space-based beacon for calibrating U.S. range tracking systems.

The RCA Astro-Electronics division won a Navy contract to build the production version of Transit, which was officially named Nova.  The first Nova satellite was launched 15 May 1981.

U.S. Navy submarines and many surface combatants were eventually equipped to use Transit as their primary means of navigation.  Private and commercial use of Transit began in the early 1970s.  The number of Transit sets in use is estimated to have been 860 at the beginning of 1974 and more than 36,350 at the beginning of 1983.  At the time the replacement Global Positioning System became operational in the 1990s, there were about 65,000 Transit users.)

Transit was superseded as the U.S. military satellite navigation system of choice in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Transit remained an operational satellite system operated by Naval Space Command, in keeping with international commitments made by the U.S., until it was finally shut down in December 1996.

2.3  Navy's role in satellite communications during the 1960s

U.S. satellite communications systems during the 1960s, like most other U.S. satellite programs, proceeded along two lines, military and civilian.  The military satellite program during this period was under direction of the Defense Communications Agency and was focused primarily on strategic and logistic requirements. The Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) evolved from this effort.

On 31 August 1962, President Kennedy promulgated a "Policy Statement on Communications Satellites."  The statement: established U.S. government policy for coordinating communications satellite activities; called for implementation by the private sector, and proposed an international effort with a goal towards building a Global Satellite Communications Network. Kennedy extended the following invitation: "I invite all nations to participate in a communications satellite system in the interest of world peace and closer brotherhood among people of the world."  To implement this policy, the U.S. Congress passed the Communications Satellite Act of 1963, which led to the formation of the Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT), formed under UN auspices in 1964.  INTELSAT I (known as Early Bird) was launched 6 April 1965.  The International, Commercial Satellite Communications Consortium (INTELSAT) completed the first global network during the late 1960s. 

Within the Navy, the Bureau of Ships was designated the lead bureau for communications, and it managed the Navy's satellite communications program. One of the strongest proponents of Navy's participation in satellite communications during this period, and for several years thereafter, was (then) LCDR Burt Edelson.  During the course of his career, he published more than fifty articles in the open literature explaining and promoting Navy use of space-based systems.

The Navy satellite-communications effort during the early 1960s included the building of NRL's microwave communications satellite terminal at Waldorf, Maryland and the equipping of a communications ship as an ocean-going terminal to participate in communications experiments. These Navy terminals cooperated extensively with both the military and the civilian programs involving DOD, NASA, Lincoln Laboratories, and commercial companies. 

The coordination of these joint efforts was aided enormously by the existence of the Technical Committee for Communication Satellites. This committee included representation from such organizations as NASA and the Lincoln Laboratory, as well as both administrative and technical representatives of each of the military services. Chairmanship of this group rotated periodically.  Monthly meetings were held. Committee members kept a close eye on commercial research with satellite communications.  The Technical Committee proved to be an effective mechanism for promoting progress.

Because the 1961 Directive on satellite-systems acquisition was in effect at this time, the Navy did not directly acquire communications satellites during this period, but relied instead on the satellites built by the Lincoln Laboratory, private industry, and the Air Force.  The sole exception was an experimental LOFTI satellite with potential applications in anti-submarine warfare (more on LOFTI later).

The Naval Research Laboratory continued its work on satellite communications throughout the 1960s, funded both by BuShips and by the Office of Naval Research, to the tune of about $300K each per year. In 1968 Dr. Berman, Director of NRL, established the Satellite Research Branch as a separate organization to consolidate this work.  The Branch was placed under direction of  J. Plumer Leiphart, whose contributions to space communications were becoming increasingly recognized.  The Branch consisted of small but highly effective task groups, each working, promoting, and advancing its projects as rapidly as technical advances and Navy operational interest in the applications developed.  Leiphart and his NRL colleagues felt that this approach was much more productive than the super-organized and extensively programmed way in which the Air Force approached the initiation and administration of its counterpart development projects [1].  The benefits of the NRL small task-group approach paid off later, when TACSAT 1 was developed.

2.3.1 "Spy-ship" communications support (TRSCOM) 

In 1964, the U.S. Navy established the world's first operational ship-shore satellite communications system to provide telecommunications support for Navy SIGINT surveillance ships that were deployed in several oceans of the world.  This communications system was named, the "Technical Research-Ship Special Communications System", in keeping with the cover story that these ships were involved in "technical research", not surveillance.

The TRSSCOM System was based on the Communications Moon Relay (CMR) concept.  To get the equipment for TRSSCOM, the Naval Research Laboratory disestablished the Communications Moon Relay (CMR) link between Hawaii and Washington DC.  CMR antennas were installed at Cheltenham, Maryland (for the Second and Sixth Fleets); Wahiawa, Hawaii (Third Fleet); and Okinawa (Seventh Fleet).

The TRSSCOM system went operational with the USS Oxford on 25 Feb 1964. The other "technical research" ships were added as equipment became available: USS Georgetown, 1966; USS Jamestown, 1966; USS Liberty, 1967; USS Belmont, 1968; and USS Valdez, 1969.  TRSSCOM provided support to the intelligence collection mission of these ships.

The TRSSCOM installation in USS Liberty never was reliable and was totally disabled during the Israeli attack on the ship during the Arab-Israeli War of 1967.  The "Technical Research" ships were placed in reserve and the TRSSCOM system was suspended in the fall of 1969, bringing to a close the first operational satellite communications program in the Navy [9].

2.3.2 Satellite-communications experiment ships

As part of its contribution to project Advent, the military's first effort to employ communications relay satellites, the Navy equipped a ship configured to demonstrate communications.

A shipboard communications terminal and a 30-foot satellite dish antenna were installed in a former Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) Victory ship, USNS Kingsport (AG-164); (see figure 12).

The Army provided ground terminals for the Advent demonstrations, at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and Camp Roberts, California.

The Kingsport completed its conversion at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in December 1962.  The first job of the Navy's new communications ship was to operate with the Army ground stations, in experiments using NASA's Syncom satellites. 

Syncom II was placed in orbit in July 1963 and positioned over Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. USNS Kingsport, stationed off  Nigeria, made the first transmissions via the satellite.  The ship then steamed to the Mediterranean for operational demonstrations with the U.S. Sixth Fleet.  The first demonstrations of two-way satellite voice communication from an aircraft in flight to a ship underway took place between a Navy aircraft off the Virginia coast and the USNS Kingsport near Morocco on 2 October 1963.  The ship then proceeded to Guam and supported the launch of Syncom III which was placed in orbit over the International Date Line in August 1964.

2.3.3 The NRL Compass Link satellite-communications terminal at Waldorf, Maryland

In the mid-1960s the Naval Research Laboratory built an experimental satellite-communications facility at a former Nike missile site near Waldorf, Maryland. The facility contained a 60-foot parabolic­dish antenna, transmitters, and a low-noise receiving system. It was also equipped fully for satellite tracking, data processing, and communications modulation experiments. The Waldorf installation was completed in 1967. 

The Waldorf facility was used during the Vietnam War as part of a special operation called "Compass Link", established by the Defense Communications Agency to pass high-quality target photography from Vietnam to Washington, DC.

In 1967, President Johnson made it known that he wanted personally to see military pictures taken in Vietnam rather than relying on someone else to evaluate them.  He also wanted to see the pictures sooner than they could be delivered from Vietnam by courier.

President Johnson's desire for this effort resulted from an incident in which the Soviets claimed that two of their ships sustained damage during a U.S. strike on Haiphong Harbor.  The President initially denied the charge but was forced to reverse himself when the Soviets published photographs of the damage.  Compass Link was set up to provide the imaging transmission for this requirement.

Compass link was established using two DSCSI satellites, providing two hops: Vietnam to Hawaii, and Hawaii to Waldorf, Maryland.  From Waldorf the imagery was transmitted by land line directly to the White House and the Pentagon.  Compass Link was used extensively until the end of the Vietnam War. Further Navy communications experiments

One of the Navy's goals in building the Waldorf facility was to test satellite-communications technology at frequencies higher than UHF, where for example, there would be plenty of bandwidth available for new techniques such as anti jam modulation. The first transmitter installed at the Waldorf facility was in the SHF communications band (radar X-band) of the microwave spectrum.  During the late 1960s the Waldorf facility was heavily involved in testing both U.S. commercial satellites and the Defense Satellite Communications System.

In the 1970s the Waldorf facility was a participant in tests of satellite communications in the EHF band (involving experiments with the Lincoln Laboratory Experimental Satellites (LES) 8 and 9).  These tests were part of the MILSTAR development effort.

In the late 1970s, the Waldorf facility also played a role in tests of the Fleet Broadcast Processor, as part of the FLTSATCOM program.

2.3.4 Experimental communications satellites of the 1960s Commercial communications satellites

TELSTAR.  The first commercial experimental communications satellite "TELSTAR," was launched by Bell Telephone Laboratories of AT&T on 11 July 1962, about a month after the cancellation of the military "Advent" program.  TELSTAR was to become the most famous of the experimental communications satellites.  Its impact on the public was so great that the name "TELSTAR" for a while became generic for "communications satellite." 

SYNCOM.  Syncom was the first commercial experimental satellite to be placed in a geosynchronous orbit, and was to become the most important of the experimental satellites, to the Navy and DOD as well as to the general public. (Note: A satellite in a geosynchronous orbit remains over the equator at a fated longitude, providing a stable and reliable relay.)  The concept for Syncom had been proposed by the Hughes Aircraft Company, turned down by DOD, and then awarded a contract by NASA in 1961.  The Syncom satellites were designed to work with the Army and Navy terminals from the note defunct Advent program.

Syncom-I, launched in February 1963, did not achieve orbit.  Syncom-II (in July 1963), and Syncom-III (in August 1964), succeeded and demonstrated the great utility of the geosynchronous orbit for almost all subsequent U.S. communications satellites [11].

The Navy participated in many experiments with the Syncom satellite's, using both the shipboard terminal in USNS Kingsport and the facility at Waldorf, Maryland. Lincoln laboratories experimental satellites (LES-series)

The MIT Lincoln Laboratory, which had originally been established by the U.S. Air Force to conduct research in strategic air defense, became very active in developing satellite-communications technology, especially for the military services.

In the course of their communications technology program, Lincoln Labs developed a number of experimental satellites, called Lincoln Experimental Satellites (LES), using Air Force funds.  LES-5 and LES-6 operated in the military UHF band and provided much of the experimental technology for the UHF satellite communications system.  Others operated in the SHF communications band (DSCS), and EHF communications band (Milstar).  The Navy used LES satellites in many of their tests during the 1960s and 1970s.

2.3.5 Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS)

When the Advent program was canceled in 1962, the Secretary of Defense assigned the newly established Defense Communications Agency to come up with a plan for acquiring a U.S. military communications satellite system. This effort led to the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS).

 Congress, in response to the President's 'Policy Statement on Communications Satellites," passed legislation in early 1963 establishing the Comsat Corporation, a government-controlled, for-profit corporation with a charter and exclusive license to pursue commercial satellite communications for the U.S. [12].  Considerable debate took place within DOD as to whether the newly established Comsat Corporation should develop a military satellite communications system.

It was finally decided that DOD should develop its own military communications system.  In keeping with the 1961 policy on military satellite-systems acquisition, the Air Force was given the responsibility for developing and launching a communications satellite. The Navy was responsible for developing the shipboard terminals, Army for its ground terminals, and the Air Force for the airborne terminals [9] Purpose of DSCS

DSCS became a major component of the Defense Communications System (DCS), the U.S. military communications system for worldwide telecommunications among DOD and various Government agencies. Within the U.S., the DCS relies heavily on commercial leased communication lines; overseas, it relies primarily on the DSCS satellites. DSCS satellites

DSCS satellites were originally designed to operate in near-geo­synchronous orbits, which drift slowly over the equator. The follow-on DSCSII and DSCS-III satellites were geosynchronous.

The DSCS-I system was designed from the start to be survivable in wartime, including nuclear warfare. The orbit selected was such that each satellite in the constellation moved about thirty degrees per day; if one was destroyed, another would soon drift into view. There was no command system in the satellite, so no enemy could take control of the system.

To provide some jamming resistance, and to make sure there would be enough bandwidth, the super-high frequency (SHF) communications band was selected.  After U.S. negotiations at the International Extraordinary Administration Radio Conference in Switzerland in 1962, frequency channels in the 8,000-MHz region were designated for the DSCS-I uplink and those in the 7,000-MHz region for the downlink

DSCS-I was built under contract by Philco-Ford.  It was successful and provided communications services to the Defense Communications Agency for about ten years.  A total of twenty-six DSCS satellites were placed on orbit during the period June 1966 to June 1968.

DSCS-I was followed by two more versions: DSCS-II, built by TRW; and DSCS-III, built by General Electric.  Each system incorporated major improvements over its predecessor.  The requirements for survivability under wartime conditions, including nuclear war, became increasingly important.  The requirements for such measures as radiation hardening, redundancy; and capability for system reconstitution became successively more stringent with DSCS-II and DSCS­III. The DSCS-III satellites also incorporated advanced antenna nulling as a further countermeasure against enemy jamming. Navy SHF terminals for DSCS

Under the DSCS program, the Navy was responsible for providing terminals for ships.  The effort to provide these terminals began in the mid-1960s (and continues today).  The design originally proposed for DSCSI would have used very wide bandwidths for the communication links.  This would have necessitated the use of very large antennas and high transmitter powers-feasible at ground stations, but not aboard ship.  In 1966, the Navy obtained a compromise that reduced the bandwidth so as to make shipboard terminals possible. (See figure 13).  Even with this compromise, DSCS terminals were feasible initially for large ships only.

The first shipboard DSGS terminal, the AN/SSG2, was installed in a transportable shelter. Two of the shelters were built and placed on Atlantic and Pacific fleet ships.  The Commanding Officer of USS Arlington, the Pacific fleet ship, expressed his feelings about the unwieldy system by reporting it as "out of commission" in his daily casualty report (CASREP) each day the shelter was embarked.

The Navy then contracted with the Collins Radio Company to build an AN/SSG-6 DSCS terminal that would use the stabilized antennas developed by Hughes for the defunct AN/SSG-3, but incorporate new electronics.  Two AN/SSC-6 terminals were delivered and installed in the Sixth Fleet flagship (USS Albany) and Seventh Fleet flagship (USS Oklahoma City).  The terminals worked but the-antenna stabilization servos wore out rapidly because of the ships' pitch and roll.

Later, during the 1970s, the AN/SSC-6 terminals were refined and installed in thirty major ships.

To replace the unseaworthy AN/SSC-2s, the Navy contracted with the Hughes Aircraft Company to build replacement AN/SSC-3s.  The engineering development models were built but proved unsatisfactory.

2.3.6 The Tactical Satellite communications (TACSAT-1) experiments

DSCS had been designed, under the Defense Communications Agency, to meet a number of military and related communications ­support requirements. These requirements included military logistics, dissemination of intelligence, control of strategic forces, and various high-level command support functions.  The DSCS communications format emphasized the transmission of documents, to be printed by the addressees on receipt.

It was soon recognized by the military operating forces, however, that DSCS would not be suitable for most tactical applications. The large, directional, stabilized antennas required for the DSCS terminals could not be used in maneuverable platforms including most ships, aircraft, submarines, and ground-mobile platforms.  The printed hard-copy format of the DSCS messages was not at all suited to many tactical requirements. The Air Force, in particular, wanted voice-transmission capability for its satellite-communications operations. The Navy, in addition to voice, had a requirement for digital­ data transmission to support planned tactical information-exchange systems.

A Tactical Satellite Communications (TACSAT I) Executive Steering Group, with senior members representing each of the Services, was established in the mid-1960s.  The Assistant Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force for R&D served as the advisory committee.  At the working level, both the OPNAV staff and Navy Material Command were represented.

The Lincoln Laboratory of MIT began pushing for the use of the military UHF communications band (225 to 400 MHz) for tactical applications, using small, omnidirectional antennas.  The transmit-­receive "footprint" for an omnidirectional UHF antenna is much larger (at bandwidths required for voice and tactical data) than the relative spot beams at SHF - making UHF much more suitable for many naval applications. 

The first requirement was to determine whether the operating forces could use the same UHF radios and antennas with which their ships, aircraft, and mobile ground forces were already equipped for conventional line-of-sight communications.  Tests were performed with LES-5 in 1967, and with the more capable LES-6 in 1968.  It was found that the existing fleet UHF transmitters and receivers had inadequate frequency stability, and that the receivers lacked sufficient sensitivity.  New, satellite-compatible terminals would have to be designed. 

At this particular phase in the history of U.S. space communications, there was a sense of cooperation and enthusiasm among the Services in planning for tactical satellite communications.  Their common adversary, at this point, was the Defense Communications Agency with its Defense Support Communications System.  In the Services' view, DCA engineers did not appreciate the requirements of the operating forces for tactical communications, and there was apprehension that the DCA would move to take over responsibility for tactical communications.

In 1969, the Navy, Air Force, and Army undertook a joint program to obtain a more sophisticated satellite with which to continue the UHF experimentation toward a tactical satellite communications capability. The Air Force was assigned to provide the TACSAT 1 satellite (in keeping with the satellite-systems acquisition directive of 1961, which was still in effect). The Navy, Army, and Air Force were each to develop their own TACSAT 1 terminals.

The Navy designed transceivers for shipboard satellite-communications (AN/WSC-1s) which provided five UHF satellite-communications channels compatible with voice, teletype, and digital data.  The counterpart airborne terminals (AN/ARC-1), ground-transportable terminals (AN/TRC-156/-157), and ground-mobile terminals (AN/MSG-58) were single channel.

The TACSAT 1 satellite (the only one under this program), was a large, spin-stabilized UHF communications repeater, built under Air Force contract by the Hughes Aircraft Company (their first major effort on a satellite- communications system).  TACSAT 1 was launched by the Air Force into synchronous orbit on a Titan-3 booster on 9 February 1969 and operated satisfactorily for about three years. The communications tests conducted in 1969 and 1970 included voice, teletype, and tactical data transmissions. TACSAT 1 was positioned over the Pacific Ocean, and its communications supported Navy ships operating in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. 

In 1969, the Naval Electronics System Command developed and tested low-cost satellite communications terminals, to demonstrate how UHF-satellite terminals could be made affordable for large numbers of Navy ships in future procurements.  The resultant AN/WSC-3 became the standard UHF terminal for ships and submarines for both satellite and conventional line-of-sight communications.

Of the three services, Navy used TACSAT 1 the most. Later, in the 1970s after the 1961 Directive had been canceled, the Navy initiated the FLTSATCOM program based on the UHF capabilities demonstrated using the LES-5/-6 and TACSAT 1 satellites. (See Section 3.3)

2.3.7 The Navy's LOFTI satellites

The Naval Research Laboratory designed, constructed, and launched some communications satellites during the 1960s; for communications relay in the very-low-frequency (VLF) portion of radio spectrum, as part of a scientific-research program. 

Since only VLF signals penetrate the sea sufficiently to communicate with submerged submarines the Navy wanted to investigate the possibility of transmitting messages to submarines from satellites on VLF.  It was, therefore, necessary to learn more about the propagation of VLF signals, especially through the ionosphere.  The Bureau of Ships funded the LOFTI experiments at the Naval Research Laboratory for this purpose.

The initial name proposed for this project was Traps-Iono­spheric Propagation System (TIPSY). Louis Gebhart, head of the Radio Division at NRL, did not deem this acronym as dignified enough to reflect the lofty goals of the experiments; thus the acronym LOFTI (Low-Frequency Traps-Ionosphere) was coined.

Under this program, NRL set up a series of experiments to measure the transmission of VLF signals between the earth and a satellite.  Because it was easier to transmit the VLF signals from the ground than from the satellites, the first experiments were designed with the satellites instrumented to receive the signals and telemeter the results back to earth. VLF transmitters were positioned at Naval Radio Stations in North, and South America, and Australia.

The experiments provided significant scientific data on the propagation of VLF radio waves through the ionosphere. 

In the end, it turned out that the ionosphere is an unpromising medium for VLF signals, because the waves at these frequencies are strongly affected by reradiation from ions and tend to bend along the Earth's magnetic field rather than follow straight line from earth to satellite as do radio waves at higher frequencies.  The LOFTI satellites launched by NRL were:

LOFTI-I, 21 February 1961, as a share-the-ride launch with a Transit satellite (see Figure 14), to an altitude of a few hundred miles.

 LOFTI-II, 24 January 1962, as a share-the-ride launch with five other Navy satellites, did not attain orbit.

2.4 Other space programs of significant interest to the-Navy in the 1960s

2.4.1 Manned space flight How high can man go? 

During the early portion of the Twentieth Century, high-altitude ballooning was a source of fascination for the public, and competition among balloonists in Europe, the United States, and the Soviet Union had the same fierceness and acceptance of risk that characterized the space race three decades later.

During the 1920s and early 1930s, Rear Admiral William Moffett, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics and the preeminent advocate for the use of airborne vehicles in naval operations, proposed that the Navy should begin a balloon research effort to explore practical problems associated with manned flight at high altitudes.  The constraints of depression-era funding did not permit large-scale research efforts of this type, however, and nothing came of the idea. (Admiral Moffett was killed during the crash of the U.S. Navy Airship Akron, on 4 April 1933.)

In 1933, the Chicago Worlds Fair sought to create a highly visible media event to attract public attention and decided to sponsor a U.S. attempt to break the existing balloon altitude record.  One of the most accomplished balloonists of the day was Lieutenant Commander Thomas Settle, U.S. Navy.  He was invited to pilot the record­breaking attempt.  Lieutenant Commander Settle obtained a leave of absence and with his copilot, Major Chester Fordney, U.S. Marine Corps, made two attempts at the record.  Their second flight reached an altitude slightly above 60,000 feet, setting a new world record. (Thomas Settle returned to the fleet and, following a career that included significant action during World War II, retired as a Vice Admiral.)

The intense flight operations and experience with global communications doting World War II revealed a need to learn more about the Earth's atmosphere, and in 1947, the Navy began an unmanned high-altitude balloon research program, under the name Project Helios, with a goal of carrying scientific instruments to 100,000 feet. The program did not go well but, in the early 1950s, spun-off Project Strato-Lab, a manned high-altitude balloon research program that was much more successful. Strato-Lab research was sponsored jointly by the Naval Air Development Center, the Office of Naval Research, and the Navy School of Aviation Medicine.  In 1956, Lieutenant Commanders Malcolm Ross and Lee Lewis set an altitude record of 76,000 feet in a closed-gondola Strato-Lab balloon.  In 1958, a Naval Observatory astronomer, Harry Mikesell, made observations by telescope from an open-gondola Strato-Lab balloon.

In May 1961, two years after the initiation of NASA's manned space program, a Strato-Lab balloon was launched from the deck of the USS Antietam in the Gulf of Mexico. The Antietam was able to chase the prevailing wind, making it possible for the large balloon to launch in a zero relative wind condition, a significant advantage.  Part of the mission of balloon pilots Malcolm Ross (now an Office of Naval Research civilian employee) and Lieutenant Commander Victor Prather (a Flight Surgeon) was to expose full pressure suits, similar to those being used by NASA astronauts, to the harsh high-altitude environment.  The flight set an open-gondola altitude record slightly above 100,000 feet that stands to this day.  Tragedy struck after landing, however, when Lieutenant Commander Prather's suit filled with water after he removed his helmet; he sank immediately and was never recovered. This incident was a harbinger of the nearly fatal mishap experienced by astronaut "Gus" Grissom during the attempt to recover the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury space capsule just 10 weeks later.  The capsule sank and Grissom, who had also removed his helmet, was barely saved.

The Strato-Lab project was terminated soon after this fatal flight. With the NASA Mercury program moving forward at a rapid pace, it was difficult to justify further manned balloon flights. [For an authoritative description of high-altitude ballooning, including U.S. Navy contributions, readers should refer to: "The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space" by Craig Ryan, Naval Institute Press, 1995.] How fast can man go?

Shortly after World War II, the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (predecessor of NASA), began working on a joint project, D-558-I, which involved high-speed tests of the Douglas Skystreak aircraft.  The Skystreak was a jet-powered, trans-sonic aircraft, which set a short-lived world speed record in 1947.  The Navy and NACA extended the project to the D­558-II, Douglas Skyrocket, which, as the name implies, was the Navy's first and only rocket-powered aircraft.  The Skyrocket achieved an altitude of 80,000 feet in August 1953 and was the first piloted aircraft to exceed Mach 2.0, in November 1953.

In 1954, the Navy dropped its own test program and, as a cost ­saving measure, joined the other U.S. high-performance aircraft project, the NACA-Air Force X-15 program,  The goals of the X-15 program included reaching a speed of Mach 6.0 and an altitude of at least 250,000 feet in a manned rocket aircraft.  The Navy bought into the X-15 effort very cheaply, contributing something less than 5% of the project funds.  This contribution allowed the Navy to nominate one test pilot to the program, Lieutenant Commander Forrest Petersen.  [There were, however, four former Navy officers among the eleven other test pilots, including Korean War veteran Neil Armstrong.]  Lieutenant Commander Petersen was an X-15 pilot from September 1960 to January 1962, during which time he flew five test flights, reaching speeds in excess of Mach 5.0 and altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet.  Forrest Petersen returned to the fleet, at his own request, in 1962.  (Vice Admiral Petersen retired from active duty in 1980 after a distinguished career that included service as the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare and the Commander, Naval Air Systems Command.) 

The X-15 program was canceled in 1968 after completing 199 flights and setting manned, powered-flight aircraft records of Mach 6.7 and 354,200 feet, which have never been exceeded. Man in space

When the Soviet Union achieved the significant Cold War coup of putting the first satellite into orbit, the U.S. began to evaluate the feasibility of achieving a first in the next significant space milestone, putting a man in orbit.  These assessments led to the establishment of Project Mercury in 1959.  It was decided that the program to put a man in orbit would be a civilian effort, under the auspices of NASA, but that the first astronauts were to be selected from the ranks of military, or former military, test pilots. 

Project Mercury was largely a Cold War propaganda effort with little military value, but none of the services could resist the opportunity to place their best and brightest in the forefront of the undertaking.  Three Navy officers (Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, and Walter Schirra) and one Marine (John Glenn) were among the seven Mercury astronauts. In spite of an aggressive Mercury development schedule, the Soviets won the race to put the first man in orbit when Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin attained that honor on 12 April 1961.  On 5 May 1961, 23 days later, Alan Shepard was launched into a suborbital trajectory, the first U.S. manned space flight.  It was nine additional months before, on 2 February 1962, John Glenn became the first U.S. astronaut to reach orbit.

A few days after Shepard's flight, President John Kennedy startled and inspired the nation with a proposal to send a man to the moon within the decade.  Kennedy's challenge was soon turned into a practical plan, which began with Project Gemini, to develop the necessary skills and technology for a mission to the moon.  Project Gemini involved ten manned launches using a larger two-man capsule.  Of the twenty Gemini astronauts who reached orbit, nine were Navy officers.

Gemini was, however, only a stepping stone to Project Apollo, the actual effort to put a man on the moon.  From 11 October 1968 to 15 July 1975, the U.S. launched 15 Apollo missions.  Eleven of these involved moon-related missions, three were dedicated to the Skylab space station, and the final mission was the so-called Apollo-Soyuz mission which involved a rendezvous between a U.S. and a Soviet spacecraft in orbit.  Twelve Navy astronauts participated in moon­related missions, and six Navy officers walked on the moon.  Four Navy and two Marine Corps officers participated in Skylab missions, accumulating an aggregate of 256 man-days in orbit.  Once the U.S. won the race to the moon, however, it was difficult to justify the cost of the full schedule of Apollo missions and the program was terminated, even to the point of allowing the Skylab space station to reenter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up. 

NASA's follow-on to the Apollo program was the reusable Space Transportation System, known popularly as the Space Shuttle. Navy and Marine Corps personnel contributed significantly to this effort.  The first Shuttle orbital flight was an all Navy mission commanded by Commander John Young and piloted by Commander Robert Crippen. Throughout the U.S. manned space program, Navy and Marine Corps personnel (active duty and reserves) and former members of the naval service have comprised approximately half of the astronaut corps. Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, the first U.S. woman to complete a "space walk", is, for example, a Navy Reservist.

This commitment by the Navy has come at a price. Lieutenant Commander Roger Chaffee died in a raging fire in an Apollo capsule during a mission rehearsal on 27 January 1967; and Commander Michael Smith was among those killed during the explosion of the Shuttle Challenger on 28 January 1986. Task Force 140

The Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo portions of the U.S. manned space program could not have been accomplished without the hard work and dedication of the seaborne recovery force.  When NASA decided to use water landings as the recovery mode for U.S. space capsules, the Navy was asked to support these missions.  The Navy responded by forming Task Force 140, with headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. TF-140 was not a standing force, but a collection of ships, squadrons, and swimmers who were trained and equipped for recovery missions on an as-needed basis.

Although television viewers became familiar with images of Navy ships, Navy and Marine Corps helicopters, and Navy swimmers as central features of each recovery operation, the public had little insight into the massive effort required of the Navy for each operation.  Ships, helicopters, and swimmers had to train and then be on station in primary and alternate recovery areas, for both launch and landing.  Navy EC-121 "Willy Victor" radar surveillance aircraft were routinely deployed from Guam and Newfoundland to provide surveillance and communications along the Atlantic and Pacific legs of the launch and recovery orbits. From 1961 through 1975, TF-140 supported 31 manned space flights. USS Lake Champlain and a Marine Corps helicopter, for example, picked up Alan Shepard after his Freedom 7 sub orbital flight. USS Hornet greeted the Apollo 11 astronauts when they returned from the first moon landing, and USS Iwo Jima provided safe haven to the Apollo 13 astronauts following their harrowing mission.

Task Force 140 was disbanded after completion of the Apollo program, but selected Navy units continued to support manned space operations.  It was, for example, common for Navy E-2C squadrons to be tasked to fly range sanitization missions in support of early Shuttle flights.  Manned orbiting laboratory

The only serious military man-in-space effort undertaken by the U.S. was called, the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL).  This program grew out of a desire by the Air Force to establish a clear-cut manned spaceflight mission.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced an intention to explore the requirements for military man in space in a speech on 10 December 1963.  The Air Force was given the lead in this effort concept for an orbiting "laboratory," based on NASA's Gemini capsule to was eventually approved.  The purpose of the MOL program for public consumption, was to learn about space, to test equipment and to conduct experiments.  Many in the Air Force were,  however more interested in the potential of the MOL as an orbiting platform from which to conduct reconnaissance, gather intelligence (using telescopes, ELINT receivers, and radar), and covertly to examine satellites launched by other nations.

The Navy and Marine Corps selected four astronauts for the MOL program: Lieutenant John Finley, USN; Lieutenant Richard Truly, USN; Lieutenant Robert  Crippen, USN; and Captain Robert Overmyer, USMC.  

As the U.S. became more deeply mired in Vietnam and demands on the defense budget grew, so did the pressure on programs that could not justify their military utility.  MOL funding was steadily "nibbled" away until the program was no longer sustainable and schedules began to slip.  Three factors beyond competition with Vietnam for resources resulted finally in the demise of the MOL program: (1) the Air Force was never able to formulate a convincing mission for the orbit; (2) growing experience with manned and unmanned satellite programs revealed that the cost of a manned space program could grow as much as 30% more than an unmanned program; and (3) results from the classified CORONA satellite imaging program were excellent, eliminating the requirement for a redundant manned imaging platform.

President Richard Nixon canceled the MOL program on 10 June 1969.  Upon termination of the program, one of the three Navy MOL astronauts, Lieutenant Finley, returned to the fleet.  The remaining two Navy and one Marine Corps MOL astronauts (Lieutenant Truly, Lieutenant Crippen, and Captain Overmyer) transferred to NASA and made significant contributions to the Shuttle program. Summary of Naval participation in manned space programs

Although the Navy and Marine Corps have had little to gain from the manned space program, except excellent public relations, the sea-going services have made, and continue to make, excellent contributions to U.S. manned space activities.  It is noteworthy that space flight has profoundly affected many of the U.S. Astronauts and Russian Cosmonauts.  After gazing at the "bright blue marble" of Earth from a distance, against a backdrop of seemingly limitless, cold black space, the world's first spacefarers have often become strong advocates for greater understanding and cooperation among peoples and nations.  All the early Astronauts had military backgrounds, and several were combat veterans, but it is rare to find any support among those who have been in space for use of the "new frontier" as a theater of military operations.

2.5 Navy's ELINT reconnaissance project in the 1960s

2.6 Navy's early space-based radar programs

From the earliest days of Navy involvement with space, the idea of putting a radar in space had seemed a good one. Shipbased radars had proved their worth as surveillance devices in World War II.  Putting radars in aircraft had increased the surveillance horizon to 200 miles and more.  The concept of putting surveillance radars in low­ orbiting satellites promised to increase the radar's horizon even more.  Because satellites orbit the earth several times a day, it might even be possible for a low-orbiting, space-based radar to search daily entire oceans, unobstructed by cloud cover or the darkness of night.

2.6.1 Albatross

The first serious effort to determine the feasibility of a Navy space-based radar was project "Albatross," sponsored by the Astronautics Program Office of the Bureau of Naval Weapons in 1960 and conducted by the Naval Missile Center, Point Mugu, California.  The concept was to detect and image ships using synthetic aperture techniques, from a constellation of six satellites at 300-mile altitude.  Each satellite would have two radars to cover each side of the ground track simultaneously.  Project Albatross continued only through a study stage.

2.6.2 Navy radar for the manned orbiting laboratory (MOL)

As part of its contribution to the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program in the mid-1960s, the Navy provided an experimental package consisting of a number of surveillance sensors (passive signal-intercept, radar, optics, and camera) to be operated in real time by observers in the MOL.  The radar was small, conventional radar on a rotatable mast.  Part way through the MOL program the Navy was asked to incorporate a non-coherent, side-looking, synthetic-aperture radar (SAR), which turned out to be of such size and weight that it was impractical to place in orbit.  When the MOL Program was terminated in 1969, the Navy's spacebased effort ended with it. 

2.6.3  Program 749

The knowledge and experience gained from the MOL program led to a growing interest in some Navy circles in a lighter-weight radar that could be orbited in space.  In 1964, the feasibility of a small light-weight radar system was investigated for installation in the nose cone of a Polaris A-3 missile (Project 485).  In 1965, the G.W. Preston Company submitted an unsolicited proposal for a lightweight, low-powered, space-based radar.  NRL made a study of these proposals and concluded that radar would be feasible for ocean surveillance.

This and other work led to Program 749.  This exploratory development program, funded by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Dr. Albert Hall, and managed by the Navy, was to investigate the feasibility of a space-based radar for ocean surveillance.  The design was for a simple, conventional radar operating at L-band, fixed to the satellite and scanning to the side as the satellite moved along its track.  The design was assessed to be feasible for detecting and locating ships, but not for identifying them. 

The proposal to transition Program 749 into concept development was reviewed in 1969 by an OSD Committee headed by Mr. Bennington (the "Bennington Committee'), which recommended against transitioning Program 749 into concept development.  The principal objection was that the radar could only detect and track ships, not identify them, and was in essence a "blob detector."  The Committee appears to have overlooked the potential of operating a radar in conjunction with other sensors (i.e., ELINT) that have target identification capabilities.

The DOD Decision Paper that followed the Bennington Committee's report acknowledged that a requirement existed for a space­based radar for ocean surveillance but concluded that a spacebased radar that can detect and locate but not identify ships was not sufficient, thereby setting a precedent for decisions on spacebased radars over the next few years.

2.7  Navy environmental-sensing satellites in the 1960s

2.7.1 Ionospheric research  

Beginning in the mid-1960s, the Navy sponsored research concerning the ionospheric and the effects of highly-charged solar particles on both terrestrial and satellite communications.  Between 1964 and 1976, the Navy participated in three tests to measure the ionosphere using satellites developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University.  Similarly, from 1965 to 1971, the Naval Research Laboratory contributed to four NASA Explorer missions which focused on solar and ionosphere measurements. 

2.7.2  NRL's SOLRAD satellites during the 1960s

NRL's SOLRAD satellite program was considered an R&D program and was one of the Navy's space programs that was allowed to continue after the 1961 DOD space systems acquisition decision. Advances in solar-radiation data collection and data transmission were incorporated in successive satellites (see figure 15).

Data collected by SOLRAD satellites was downlinked initially to NRL's Satellite Command and Telemetry Readout Site at Hybla Valley Virginia (the site of today's Huntley Meadows wild life preserve).  Later in the program, data was sent to NRL's Tracking and Data Acquisition Facility, Blossom Point, Maryland.  The collected data was then relayed to NRL's SOLRAD Data Operations Center for analysis. The information derived from SOLRAD data was used throughout the Navy as an aid to communicators in selecting radio channels least affected by solar activity.  Outside the Navy, SOLRAD data were furnished on a routine basis to the Environmental Services Space Disturbance Forecast Center at Boulder, Colorado, and the U.S. Air Force Air Weather Service. 

In addition to the SOLRAD satellites, NRL developed solar-radiation measurement and data-transmission equipments used in NASA satellites and Skylab during this period. 

2.7.3 APL's environmental-research satellites during the 1960s  

Like the work at NRL, the space program at the Applied Physics Laboratory during the 1960s included scientific experiments in addition to development of space systems for military application.  These APL scientific programs were primarily in the areas of geodesy, space physics, and ionospheric measurements.. Geodesy program

The Navy sponsored an extensive research program in geodesy at APL, to measure the Earth's shape and gravitational fields.  This information was needed to determine the Transit satellite orbits and to improve the accuracy for the Transit navigation system.  The geodesy research and development program utilized the sixteen world-wide tracking stations built and operated by APL as part of the Transit tracking network, plus one station operated by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Lasham, England.

The satellites used for obtaining geodetic data were in six different orbits and were supplied by three different programs as follows:

ANNA satellites.  The Army Navy, NASA, and Air Force (acronym “ANNA”) program originated with the Navy, and was coordinated by NASA. Under this program, APL provided two satellites, ANNA-lA.  APL environmental-research satellites during the 1960s and ANNA-1B, that carried three different tracking systems: 

LZDOS satellites. In the late 1960s, the Navy asked APL to build a geodetic-research satellite called Low-inclination Doppler-only Satellite (LIDOS) "Doppler only" meaning that it was intended to be tracked by the Doppler method, similar to Transit It was decided later to place the LIDOS satellite in a high-altitude, near-polar orbit; its name was changed to "Large" inclination Doppler-only Satellite, "to keep the same acronym. LIDOS was launched on 16 August 1968, with nine other satellites, on an Atlas/Burner II vehicle, but the heat shield failed to open and all the satellites were lost. APL space-physics program

In 1960, the Navy provided funds to APL to establish a space physics program.  The program had two purposes: (1) to measure the properties of the space environment in which Transit navigation satellites would have to operate; and (2) to undertake a general, scientific program in space physics.

APL's Transit Research and Altitude Control (TRAAC) satellite, built and launched in 1961, had as its dual mission: (a) testing gravity gradient as a means of satellite stabilization; and (b) measuring the densities of certain atomic particles (protons and neutrons) in orbit.  When the U.S. Starfish high-altitude nuclear test took place over Johnson Island in the Pacific on 9 July 1962, TRAAC provided the U.S. with important information about nuclear radiation in space from nuclear detonations, information used by the U.S. satellite survivability program.  (Radiation from the Starfish detonation had a fatal effect on the solar power supplies of both TRAAC and Transit 4-B.)

The Navy then asked APL to build five space-physics research satellite's called -series 5E-.  These satellites were designed to be launched in tandem with a Transit 4-B-series navigational prototype satellite.  Four of the 5E series were launched between 28 September 1963 and 13 December 1964.  The fifth was converted into the DOD Gravity Experiment (DODGE) satellite and launched 1 July 1967 to demonstrate the feasibility of gravity-gradient stabilization of satellites at synchronous altitude. 

The 5E-series satellites carried instruments for measuring charged-particle densities and measuring the Earth's magnetic field.  An ultraviolet telescope operating in the range from 1300 to 1650 angstroms was carried by 5E-2 (which failed to orbit) and by 5E-5.  This telescope was used to make the first survey of ultraviolet radiation in space beyond the wavelengths absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere.  The 5E-series provided a rich source of scientific data on space particles, space radiation, and residual radiation from nuclear detonations.  At least 44 scientific papers on space physics were published by APL staff based on the data from this series of satellites.

Sponsorship of the APL space physics program was transferred from the Navy to NASA in the mid-1960s.

2.8 Navy space-support operations

2.8.1 Navy range-instrumentation ships

A need for shipboard range instrumentation was recognized very early in the U.S. space program since many launches were made toward the ocean for reasons of safety.

The first range instrumentation ships carried very simple equipment, mostly telemetry gear adapted from shore equipment. In some instances, for the sake of expediency, range equipment was not even installed in the ships but was brought aboard in vans. 

As requirements for precision and the complexity of tracking, telemetry, and control (TT&C) instrumentation became more demanding, shipboard range equipment was developed specifically for shipboard use.  The first range ship with a fully instrumented TT&C system was the USNS Range Tracker (AGM-1), which became operational on the Pacific Missile Range in late 1961 (see Figure 16).  Victory and Mariner-class ships were provided eventually for both national ranges.  Three ships were fitted with large stabilized parabolic tracking and telemetry antennas, digital computers for processing satellite data, and ultra-precise navigation, timing, and data-recording systems. 

The last active AGM (USNS Wheeling) was retired in 1981.  In 1980, a proposal was made by NAVAIR to replace the Wheeling, a World War II Victory Ship, with a commercial C5 hull, moving all the tracking and electronics equipment from the Wheeling.  The then Director of OP-098, VADM Emerson, decided not to proceed with hull replacement due to costs and changing requirements.

2.9 ASAT systems during the "strategic" epoch

U.S. military development of anti-satellite (ASAT) systems began almost concurrently with development of the fast U.S. satellites. In 1957, all three military services made proposals to develop ASATs: the Army, for an ASAT lifted to orbit on a modified Nike Zeus antiballistic missile; the Navy, for an ASAT lifted to orbit on a Polaris missile; and the Air Force, for its proposed project "Saint." 

2.9.1 U.S. policy on war in space (strategic space-based weapons and anti-space weapons)

During the latter stages of the Eisenhower administration, each of the services proposed to expand their respective ASAT studies into advanced development. President Eisenhower resisted them, for the following reasons:

These points of view were further refined into an argument that the Soviets had more to gain from ASATs than the U.S., because the U.S. was more dependent on satellites for collection of intelligence over the USSR than the USSR was for intelligence of the U.S. [3, 4].  To hedge this bet, the argument continued, the U.S. should continue research on an ASAT technology base.  This argument prevailed as the basis for U.S. ASAT policy over the next twenty years. 

2.9.2 Development of U.S. ASATs  

The 1961 Directive that made Air Force solely responsible for any further acquisition of space systems, did permit the Navy and Army to continue research on space-related applications.  Under these terms, the Navy, Army, and Air Force continued their respective studies and research on ASAT systems. Air Force and Army ASAT developments  

"Saint" was a U.S. satellite system proposed by the Air Force for inspecting, and potentially shooting down, enemy satellites.  It was to be launched into coorbit with an uncooperative target, approach it as closely as needed, "inspect" it, and radio the information to a ground station. The Saint satellite could just as well be equipped with a small warhead to destroy the inspected target and thus was a potential antisatellite (ASAT) interceptor.  With complexity came increasing costs.  The purpose of Saint (inspection versus destruction) never became very clear, and the program was canceled 3 Dec 1962 by the Air Force.  After the demise of "Saint," Air Force proposals to develop interceptors emphasized nuclear warheads, using the Air Force's "Thor" missile. 

During this period the Army conducted research on ASATs, using the Nike "Zeus" booster. Navy entries in the ASAT race 

Early Spring. This name was applied to several proposals for a submarine-launched, direct ascent ASAT based on the Polaris missile.  None of these proposals were pushed to maturity in part because of a reluctance to use scarce Polaris missiles for this purpose. 

Skipper. This name was used in association with several concepts to develop seaborne ASATs, based on the Scout rocket, that could be launched from surface ships and submarines.  None of these concepts proceeded beyond the discussion phase. 

Project HiHo. This ASAT project, which went beyond the discussion phase, was based on the concept of an air-launched missile.  The concept was tested, using a Navy F-4 Phantom fighter and Caleb rockets, at the Pacific Missile Test Range in 1962.  During one test, a zoom-climbing F-4 fired a rocket to an altitude of 1,000 miles, in theory able to reach any non-U.S. intelligence satellite in orbit at that time. 

2.9.3 The soviet ASAT threat 

In October 1968, the Soviets began testing a "co-orbital" ASAT system.  This system was based on the concept of a space interceptor which was placed in the same orbit as the target satellite and then moved within kill range.  The Soviets tested their system seven times, with the final event (of what would later be recognized as the first test series) occurring on 3 December 1971. 

The U.S. was unable to respond to this increase in the Soviet threat because of the enormous fiscal burden of the Vietnam Conflict. 

2.10 Navy contributions to satellite technology during the 1960s 

Nevertheless, a number of scientific and technical personnel remained at Navy-associated space facilities, in particular the Naval Research Laboratory and the Applied Physics Laboratory, to maintain a small but highly effective space technology program. Although relatively few in number, the personnel working on Navy space programs during the 1960s made contributions that significantly furthered U.S. satellite technology and were to have a lasting value to U.S. space programs. The following are some of the major Navy contributions during the 1960s. 

2.10.1 Satellite stabilization 

Most space-based sensors and communications satellites must be stabilized so that one side of the satellite always faces the earth. Under its Navy program, APL pioneered the use of the Earth's gravitational field for this purpose. The Transit Research and Attitude Control (TRAAC) satellite was launched in 1961 to gather data, and on 15 June 1963 Transit 5A 3 became the first artificial satellite to achieve gravity gradient stabilization.  In simple terms, the gravity-gradient technique relies on the fact that the gravitational attraction between two bodies decreases as the distance between the bodies increases.  If a mass is placed on the end of a telescoping boom that is extended from a satellite once orbit has been achieved, the combination of mass-boom-satellite will tend to align itself along an imaginary line extending from the center of the earth to the satellite.  The desired satellite orientation-boom toward or away from the earth- can be varied by selecting carefully the mass attached to the boom.  Although the boom and attached mass increase the launch weight of a satellite, the net increase is less than that of more complex stabilization systems.  The gravity gradient technique was to become the most common U.S. method for stabilizing satellites in those applications for which two-axis stability suffices. 

2.10.2 Satellite station-keeping on orbit  

NRL was the first space research activity to develop a technique for keeping satellites on station in orbit.  The techniques, which employed ammonia gas thrusters capable of developing millionths of a pound of thrust were demonstrated first on NRL's satellite-3, launched 9 March 1965. 

In 1965, NRL built more powerful gas thrusters, capable of delivering thousandths of a pound of thrust.  These thrusters were used first to spin-stabilize the SOLRAD series of satellites, beginning with SOLRAD-8 launched 19 November 1965.  (Note: Spin-stabilization takes advantage of gyroscopic techniques to control the axis of rotation of satellite while on orbit.) 

2.10.3  Multiple-launch technology

The world's first artificial satellites were launched separately on individual booster.  The Naval Research Laboratory pioneered the concept of launching multiple satellites on a single booster and developed the technology for this purpose. NRL was instrumental in conducting: 

17 July 2003