[ index | 1970 ]


36. The first US Comint [communications intelligence] satellite, CANYON, was launched In August 1968, followed soon by a second. The satellites were controlled from a ground station at Bad Aibling, Germany. In order to provide permanent coverage of selected targets, CANYON satellites were placed close to geostationary orbits. However, the orbits were not exact, causing the satellites to change position and obtain more data on ground targets.(20) Seven CANYON satellites were launched between 1968 and 1977.

37. CANYON's target was the Soviet Union. Major Soviet communications links extended for thousands of miles, much of it over Siberia, where permafrost restricted the reliable use of underground cables. Geographical circumstances thus favoured NSA by making Soviet internal communications links highly accessible. The satellites performed better than expected, so the project was extended.

Cf. also:
(launched 1960) -- first photo reconnaissance satellite
(launched 1972) -- pure SIGINT
KH-11 (launched 1976) -- photo + SIGINT

38. The success of CANYON led to the design and deployment of a new class of Comint satellites, CHALET. The ground station chosen for the CHALET series was Menwith Hill, England. Under NSA project P-285, US companies were contracted to install and assist in operating the satellite control system and downlinks (RUNWAY) and ground processing system (SILKWORTH). The first two CHALET satellites were launched in June 1978 and October 1979. After the name of the first satellite appeared in the US press, they were renamed VORTEX. In 1982, NSA obtained approval for expanded "new mission requirements" and were given funds and facilities to operate four VORTEX satellites simultaneously. A new 5,000m2 operations centre (STEEPLEBUSH) was constructed to house processing equipment. When the name VORTEX was published in 1987, the satellites were renamed MERCURY.(21)

20."Amerikanskiye sputniki radioelektronnoy razvedki na Geosynchronnykh orbitakh" ("American Geosynchronous SIGINT Satellites"), Major A Andronov, Zarubezhnoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, No.12, 1993, pps 37-43.

21."Space collection", in The US Intelligence Community (fourth edition), Jeffrey Richelson, Westview, Boulder, Colorado, 1999, pages 185-191.


[ index | 1969 ]