Confirmation of the satellite's SIGINT capability came during a trial several years ago in which it was revealed that Section 2 of the sixty-four-page KH-11 systems technical manual was classified TOP SECRET UMBRA, the overall code for high-level SIGINT information. Nearby were the words "Spool Label Color-Coded for DB" and the word "canisters". This may mean that, like Big Bird, Keyhole can store exposed film and tape in canisters that are periodically ejected into the earth's atmosphere, descend by parachute to a point in the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii, and are recovered in midair or float on or just under the surface of the ocean, givin off radio and sonar signals for eventual recovery by frogmen. The SIGINT spools, as opposed to the film spools, can then be sent for data processing (DP).
Keyhole was first launched on December 19, 1976. Later launches were on June 14, 1978, and February 7, 1980. It could achieve a 300-mile-high orbit, almost twice as high as Big Bird's highest orbit, and thus had a life expectancy of about two years, a cosiderable improvement over the previous generation.
-- James Bamford: THE PUZZLE PALACE, 1982.
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