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Discoverer 12



The satellite Discoverer 12 was designed to develop and improve launching techniques, propulsion, communications, and orbital performance and to conduct advanced engineering tests, including separation, deceleration, reentry through the atmosphere, and recovery from the sea of an instrument package. The cylindrical Agena A stage carried a telemetry system, tape recorder, receivers for command signals from the ground, a horizon scanner, and a 136-kg package that included a recovery capsule with recovery aids, retrorockets, and telemetry equipment to measure its performance. The payload was identical to that of Discoverer 8, with the addition of a doppler beacon and external lights installed on the Agena A casing for tracking purposes. The spacecraft failed to attain orbit.

The Discoverer program was managed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force. The primary goal of the program was to develop a film-return photographic surveillance satellite to assess how rapidly the Soviet Union was producing long-range bombers and ballistic missiles and where they were being deployed, and to take photos over the Sino-Soviet bloc to replace the the U2 spyplanes. It was part of the secret Corona program which was also used to produce maps and charts for the Department of Defense and other US government mapping programs. The goal of the program was not revealed to the public at the time, it was presented as a program to orbit large satellites to test satellite subsystems and investigate the communication and environmental aspects of placing humans in space, including carrying biological packages for return to Earth from orbit. In all, 38 Discoverer satellites were launched by February 1962, although the satellite reconnaissance program continued until 1972 as the Corona project. The program documents were declassified in 1995.

Alternate Names

  • Discoverer12

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1960-06-29
Launch Vehicle: Thor-Agena
Launch Site: Vandenberg AFB, United States
Mass: 790 kg

Funding Agency

  • Department of Defense-Department of the Air Force (United States)


  • Surveillance and Other Military

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Coordinated Request and User Support Office

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