9.3.1: SAMOS

The SAMOS satellite system was part of the WS-117L initial military satellite program. (I acknowledge the extensive help of Dwayne Day in figuring out the SAMOS program).

The US Air Force's Western Development Division retained control over the part of WS-117L that became SAMOS. Originally part of USAF Ballistic Missile Division (under Air Research and Development Command, ARDC), overall control was given to ARPA in 1958 but returned to USAF ARDC in summer 1959 [226]. In Aug 1960 the SAMOS project was reorganized and reported directly to the Undersecretary of the USAF. Management of the E-6 part of SAMOS was by 1960 located in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood [216].

SAMOS tested visual surveillance (real time radio readout of scanned photographs), film recovery, and ferret electronic intelligence. The original SAMOS, Program (or Project) 101, consisted of an Agena A and carried the E-1 0.15-m focal length strip camera and an F-1 ferret payload. E-1 was a component test payload. Some documents indicate that the F-1 was a separate payload, possibly a subsatellite, but it seems more likely that it remained attached to the Agena. Three Program 101 satellites were built and two were launched. A follow-on version, Program 101A, carried a longer focal length (0.9m) E-2 camera and F-1 ferret system on a more powerful Agena B stage. Two were built and one was launched; it did not reach orbit. The only successful flight in the 101 and 101A programs was SAMOS 2, and its photos were not of high quality. 101A was cancelled in 1961 and the idea of real-time surveillance by radio transmission readout of exposed film was abandoned, although the concept was revived for the Film Read Out GAMBIT (FROG) proposal of the late 1960s which never flew. It would not be until 1976 when a digital CCD based system would provide effective near-real-time surveillance from space. An E-4 mapping payload, for the USAF Aeronautical Chart and Information Center, was cancelled early in its development (replaced by ARGON), although five payloads were built and placed in storage; E-3 was apparently a higher resolution system for target identification, possibly replaced by E-6.

After the limitations of the readout system became apparent, the focus shifted to recovery techniques, already pioneered by CORONA. In May 1960 USAF undersecretary Charyk ordered SAMOS to be reoriented to recovery techniques since it had become apparent that readout was in trouble. Program 101B carried the E-5 payload, involving a long focal length (1.7m) panoramic camera and a recoverable capsule, while Program 201 (later 698BJ) carried the E-6 payload, with an alternate design of recoverable capsule and a 0.9-meter focal length camera (possibly related to the E-2 camera). Finally, Program 102 (or 698BK) was a dedicated Ferret satellite, probably the F-2 payload.

In a US Intelligence Board briefing viewgraph dated 1960 Jul 6 [227] the first SAMOS priority was defined to be `General Search - 20 foot recognizability' for locating suspected ICBM launch sites prior to end of 1962. E-2 would give a limited search capability, and was scheduled for Apr 1961 (in the event, Sep 1961). E-6 would give the full capability, scheduled for Jan 1962 (actually Apr 1962). SAMOS's second priority was `Descriptive information - 5 foot recognizability', to give coverage of highest priority targets, to be supported by the E-5 starting in Sep 1961 (the first E-5 was actually launched in Nov 1961). A third priority involved better than 5 foot resolution for technical characteristics of highest priority targets, with `advanced research underway' - possibly the studies that led to KH-7?


Planned SAMOS capability (Jul 1960)

System   Retrieval method  Focal length  Resolution   Duration   Swath width (km)   Launches 

E-1   Readout  0.15m (6")   30m (100 ft)  10d   161   3 (actual 2)  
E-2   Readout  0.9m (36")   6m (20 ft)   4 months  27   3 (actual 1) 
E-5   Recovery  1.7m (66")   1.5m (5 ft)   15-30d   98   7 (actual 4) 
E-6   Recovery  0.9m (36") (two)   2.4m (8 ft)   5 d   370   7 (actual 5) 

The SAMOS missions (except for Program 102) were launched by Atlas Agena from the Point Arguello Naval Missile Facility. Complex 65-1 was initially developed for Atlas IOC (Initial Operational Capability) ballistic missile tests, but in 1959 it was decided to transfer it to SAMOS. The complex was renamed Launch Complex 1.

The SAMOS 101 and 101B satellites separated from the Agena final stage, according to data in the NORAD Satellite Catalog, where the objects called 'nose cap' and 'debris' by the RAE are identified as Agena rocket bodies.


Summary of SAMOS launches

Program   Agena   SAMOS   Launch Date   Payloads   Result  

101   Agena A 2101   SAMOS 1   1960 Oct 11   E-1, F-1   Failed to orbit 
101   Agena A 2102   SAMOS 2   1961 Jan 31   E-1, F-1   Successful orbit 
101   Agena A 2103   -   -   E-1, F-1   Not flown  
101A   Agena B 2120   SAMOS 3   1961 Sep 9   E-2, F-2   Failed to orbit 
101A   Agena B 2121   -   -   E-2, F-2   Not flown  
101B   Agena B 2201   -   -   E-5   Ground test vehicle 
101B   Agena B 2202   SAMOS 4   1961 Nov 22   E-5   Failed to orbit 
101B   Agena B 2203   SAMOS 5   1961 Dec 22   E-5   Recovery failed? 
101B   Agena B 2204   SAMOS 6   1962 Mar 7   E-5   Recovery failed? 
101B   Agena B 2205   -   -   E-5   Cancelled 
101B   Agena B 2206   -   -   E-5   Cancelled 
101B   Agena B 2207   -   -   E-5   Cancelled 
101B   Agena B 2208   -   -   E-5   Cancelled 
101B   Agena B 2209   -   -   E-5   Cancelled 
101B   Agena B 2210   -   -   E-5   Cancelled 
201   Agena B 2401   PVP 851   1962 Apr 26   E-6   Recovered successfully  
201 (BJ)  Agena B 2402   PVP 852   1962 Jun 17   E-6   Recovery attempted? 
201 (BJ)  Agena B 2403   PVP 853   1962 Jul 18   E-6   Capsule failed to deorbit 
201 (BJ)  Agena B 2404   PVP 854   1962 Aug 5   E-6   Payload failed on orbit 
201 (BJ)  Agena B 2405   PVP 855   1962 Nov 11   E-6   Recovered successfully  
201 (BJ)  Agena B 2406   -   -   E-6   Cancelled 
201 (BJ)  Agena B 2407   -   -   E-6   Cancelled 
201 (BJ)  Agena B 2408   -   -   E-6   Cancelled 
201 (BJ)  Agena B 2409   -   -   E-6   Cancelled 
102 (BK)  Agena B 2301   (FERRET)   1962 Feb 21   F-2   Second burn failed 
102 (BK)  Agena B 2312   (FERRET)   1962 Jun 18   F-2   Successful orbit  
102 (BK)  Agena B 2313   (FERRET)   1963 Jan 16   F-2   Successful orbit  
102 (BK)  Agena B 2314   (FERRET)   1963 Jun 29   F-2   Successful orbit 

Shortly before the first SAMOS launch, the USAF set up the Office of Missile and Satellite Systems (SAFMS, Secretary of the Air Force, Missiles and Satellites) to manage the satellite program, and a Director of the SAMOS project at AFBMD reporting to the Secretary of the Air Force. Brig.-Gen Robert E. Greer was appointed SAMOS project director at AFBMD.

The E-5 satellite.

The E-6 satellite.