Encyclopedia Astronautica
Improved Crystal


American military surveillance satellite. Operational, first launch 1992.11.28. Improved CRYSTAL was an optical reconnaissance satellite built for the US National Reconnaissance Office. Prime contractor was thought to be Lockheed.

Instruments included a large telescope with visual and near infrared wavelength CCD sensors and the ICMS mapping system.

The satellite succeeded the KH-11. Public attribution of the KH-12 designation to the satellite was believed to be incorrect. The basic optical package may have been similar to the KH-11, but with improved avionics and a great deal more maneuvering propellant. The satellite was believed to include signals intelligence payloads, and had wider spectral band sensitivity, perhaps 'real time' television capability, and other improvements compared to the KH-11. Meant to be shuttle-launched, after the USAF abandoned its shuttle plans it was lightened and modified for Titan 4 launch. Data transmitted via SDS military relay satellites.

The ICM propulsion bus, developed by NRL for a 'classified program', proposed as a tug for the International Space Station, was believed to have been based on the Improved Crystal's propulsion module.

AKA: KH-12; KH-11B; Ikon.
Gross mass: 18,000 kg (39,000 lb).
Unfuelled mass: 11,000 kg (24,000 lb).
First Launch: 1992.11.28.
Last Launch: 2011.01.20.
Number: 6 .

More... - Chronology...


Associated Countries
See also
  • Titan The Titan launch vehicle family was developed by the United States Air Force to meet its medium lift requirements in the 1960's. The designs finally put into production were derived from the Titan II ICBM. Titan outlived the competing NASA Saturn I launch vehicle and the Space Shuttle for military launches. It was finally replaced by the USAF's EELV boosters, the Atlas V and Delta IV. Although conceived as a low-cost, quick-reaction system, Titan was not successful as a commercial launch vehicle. Air Force requirements growth over the years drove its costs up - the Ariane using similar technology provided lower-cost access to space. More...

Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Titan American orbital launch vehicle. The Titan launch vehicle family was developed by the United States Air Force to meet its medium lift requirements in the 1960's. The designs finally put into production were derived from the Titan II ICBM. Titan outlived the competing NASA Saturn I launch vehicle and the Space Shuttle for military launches. It was finally replaced by the USAF's EELV boosters, the Atlas V and Delta IV. Although conceived as a low-cost, quick-reaction system, Titan was not successful as a commercial launch vehicle. Air Force requirements growth over the years drove its costs up - the Ariane using similar technology provided lower-cost access to space. More...
  • Titan 4 American orbital launch vehicle. Developed to handle military payloads designed for launch on Shuttle from Vandenberg before the USAF pulled out of the Shuttle program after the Challenger disaster. Further stretch of core from Titan 34, 7-segment solid rocket motors (developed for MOL but not used until 25 years later). Enlarged Centaur G used as upper stage (variant of stage designed for Shuttle but prohibited for flight safety reasons after Challenger). Completely revised electronics. All the changes resulted in major increase in cost of launch vehicle and launch operations. More...
  • Titan 4B American orbital launch vehicle. Titan 4 with Upgraded Solid Rocket Motors replacing UA1207. Developed to improve performance for certain missions, and reduce number of field joints in motor after Challenger and Titan 34D explosions involving segmented motors. More...
  • Titan 404A American orbital launch vehicle. Version of Titan 4 with no upper stage, configured for launch of heavy-weight, low altitude KH-12 and Improved CRYSTAL payloads from Vandenberg. More...
  • Titan 404B American orbital launch vehicle. Version of Titan 4B with no upper stage, configured for launch from Vandenberg. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • NRO American agency overseeing development of spacecraft. National Reconnaissance Office, USA. More...
  • Lockheed American manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Lockheed Martin, Sunnyvale, CA, USA. More...

Bibliography
  • McDowell, Jonathan, Jonathan's Space Home Page (launch records), Harvard University, 1997-present. Web Address when accessed: here.
  • JPL Mission and Spacecraft Library, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 1997. Web Address when accessed: here.
  • National Space Science Center Planetary Page, As of 19 February 1999.. Web Address when accessed: here.

Associated Launch Sites
  • Vandenberg Vandenberg Air Force Base is located on the Central Coast of California about 240 km northwest of Los Angeles. It is used for launches of unmanned government and commercial satellites into polar orbit and intercontinental ballistic missile test launches toward the Kwajalein Atoll. More...
  • Vandenberg SLC4E Titan, Atlas launch complex. First designated PALC2-4 and used to launch Atlas Agena D with KH-7 spysats. Rebuilt after MOL cancellation in 1970 to handle Titan 3D with KH-9 and KH-11 spysats. Upgraded in 1989-1990 for Titan 4. More...

Improved Crystal Chronology


1992 November 28 - . 21:34 GMT - . Launch Site: Vandenberg. Launch Complex: Vandenberg SLC4E. LV Family: Titan. Launch Vehicle: Titan 404A. LV Configuration: Titan 404A K-3 (45J-1).
  • USA 86 - . Mass: 19,600 kg (43,200 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NRO; CIA. Class: Surveillance. Type: Military surveillance satellite. Spacecraft: Improved Crystal. Decay Date: 2000-06-05 . USAF Sat Cat: 22251 . COSPAR: 1992-083A. Apogee: 911 km (566 mi). Perigee: 256 km (159 mi). Inclination: 97.7000 deg. Period: 96.40 min. Summary: Optical reconnaisance satellite built for the US National Reconnaissance Office..

1995 December 5 - . 21:18 GMT - . Launch Site: Vandenberg. Launch Complex: Vandenberg SLC4E. LV Family: Titan. Launch Vehicle: Titan 404A. LV Configuration: Titan 404A K-15 (45J-3).
  • USA 116 - . Mass: 26,000 kg (57,000 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NRO; CIA. Class: Surveillance. Type: Military surveillance satellite. Spacecraft: Improved Crystal. USAF Sat Cat: 23728 . COSPAR: 1995-066A. Apogee: 976 km (606 mi). Perigee: 250 km (150 mi). Inclination: 98.7000 deg. Summary: Optical reconnaisance satellite built for the US National Reconnaissance Office. Instruments said to include a large telescope with visual and near infrared wavelength CCD sensors and the ICMS mapping system..

1996 December 20 - . 18:04 GMT - . Launch Site: Vandenberg. Launch Complex: Vandenberg SLC4E. LV Family: Titan. Launch Vehicle: Titan 404A. LV Configuration: Titan 404A K-13 (45J-5).
  • USA 129 - . Mass: 19,600 kg (43,200 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NRO; USAF. Class: Surveillance. Type: Military surveillance satellite. Spacecraft: Improved Crystal. USAF Sat Cat: 24680 . COSPAR: 1996-072A. Apogee: 949 km (589 mi). Perigee: 153 km (95 mi). Inclination: 97.9000 deg. Summary: Optical reconnaisance satellite built for the US National Reconnaissance Office..

2001 October 5 - . 21:21 GMT - . Launch Site: Vandenberg. Launch Complex: Vandenberg SLC4E. LV Family: Titan. Launch Vehicle: Titan 404B. LV Configuration: Titan 404B 4B-34.
  • USA 161 - . Payload: EIS-2. Mass: 16,650 kg (36,700 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NRO. Manufacturer: Lockheed. Class: Surveillance. Type: Military surveillance satellite. Spacecraft: Improved Crystal. USAF Sat Cat: 26934 . COSPAR: 2001-044A. Apogee: 1,050 km (650 mi). Perigee: 150 km (90 mi). Inclination: 97.9000 deg. Launch delayed from September 25, October1. National Reconnaissance Office payload that was placed into a sun-synchronous orbit. It was speculated that the payload was an Improved Crystal imaging satellite. That would imply an operational orbit of 150 x 1050 km x 97.9 deg orbit. The satellite belonged to the National Reconnaissance Office's fleet of Earth Imaging System (EIS) satellites. A BBC website reported a resolution of 10 cm in the images. (A commonly used name for the EIS satellites was Advanced Keyhole.) The first member of the EIS fleet was USA 144 (1999-028A), launched in May 1999.

2005 October 19 - . 18:05 GMT - . Launch Site: Vandenberg. Launch Complex: Vandenberg SLC4E. LV Family: Titan. Launch Vehicle: Titan 404B. LV Configuration: Titan 404B 4B-26.
  • USA 186 - . Payload: NRO L-20 (EIS-3?). Mass: 20,000 kg (44,000 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NRO. Class: Surveillance. Type: Military surveillance satellite. Spacecraft: Improved Crystal. USAF Sat Cat: 28888 . COSPAR: 2005-042A. Apogee: 1,050 km (650 mi). Perigee: 264 km (164 mi). Inclination: 97.9000 deg. Delayed from 2003; February 2004; and June 30, July 10, September 9, 2005. Last launch of the Titan series put a classified National Reconnaisance Office satellite into polar orbit. Its orbital parameters, as determined by amateur observors, suggested it was an Improved Crystal electronic imaging reconnaissace satellite, replacing USA 129, which was launched in 1996.

2011 January 20 - . 21:10 GMT - . Launch Site: Vandenberg. Launch Complex: Vandenberg SLC6. LV Family: Delta IV. Launch Vehicle: Delta IV Heavy.
  • USA 224 - . Payload: NROL-49. Nation: USA. Class: Surveillance. Type: Military surveillance satellite. Spacecraft: Improved Crystal. USAF Sat Cat: 37348 . COSPAR: 2011-002A. Summary: National Reconnaissance Office satellite placed into 252 km x 1023 km x 97.9 deg polar orbit, consistent with reports that it is was an Improved CRYSTAL type (KH-11 derivative) imaging reconnaissance satellite..

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