HomeVisitMuseum ExhibitsFact SheetsDisplay

HEXAGON KH-9 Film Recovery Vehicle

HEXAGON KH-9 reconnaissance satellites featured four recovery vehicles or “buckets” that dropped back to earth from orbit carrying exposed reconnaissance camera film for processing. A mapping camera attached for some missions at the front of the satellite added a fifth, smaller bucket. U.S. Air Force aircraft snatched the parachuting buckets in midair over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

HEXAGON film return buckets had to be maneuverable, vacuum-sealed, temperature-controlled, lightweight, strong and recoverable. Once ejected from the HEXAGON vehicle, a small retro-rocket rocket slowed the vehicles for atmospheric re-entry, with smaller thrusters providing, and then slowing, a stabilizing spin.

The outer cover of high-temperature resin charred away to carry off heat during re-entry. Another thermal cover, plus an array of thermostats and sensors, kept the film at the correct temperature in space and during descent. Once the vehicle reached about 50,000 feet, parachutes slowed its descent. Battery-operated radio signal emitters helped aircraft locate the buckets, which could float if they landed in the ocean. McDonnell-Douglas built the KH-9’s Mark 8 recovery vehicles, while General Electric made the mapping camera’s smaller Mark V vehicles.

This artifact is on loan from the National Reconnaissance Office (Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance).

TECHNICAL NOTES (KH-9 Mark 8 vehicle):
Film load:
52,000-77,500 feet of film maximum per vehicle
Film weight: 500 lbs. maximum per vehicle
Vehicle weight: 956 lbs.

Click here to return to Cold War in Space: Top Secret Reconnaissance Satellites Revealed.

 

Find Out More
Line
Related Fact Sheets
HEXAGON KH-9 Reconnaissance Satellite
Line
Note: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the National Museum of the USAF, the U.S. Air Force, or the Department of Defense, of the external website, or the information, products or services contained therein.


Mask Policy:
In accordance with the updated guidance released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense (DoD) and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force will require all visitors to wear face masks indoors effective July 30, 2021 until further notice.

Visitors ages three and up will be required to wear masks while indoors at the museum. This policy applies to all visitors, staff and volunteers regardless of vaccination status. Visitors may wear their own masks or a free paper mask will be provided. Cloth masks will also be available for purchase in the Museum Store.
Additional information available here.

Featured Links

Plan Your Visit button
E-newsletter Sign-up button
Explore Museum Exhibits button
Browse Photos button
Visit Press Room button
Become a Volunteer button
Air Force Museum Foundation button
Donate an item button