The First ELINT Satellite GRAB was Launched on 6/22/1960

 

The photo-reconnaissance satellites such as Corona are much better known than the early ELINT satellites which detected Soviet radars. Gary Powers had been shot down less than two months prior to the launch of GRAB, and President Eisenhower had to specifically approve each time it was turned on looking into Soviet territory. I talk regularly with Pete Wilhelm who worked on it. It had a declassified component SOLRAD and the secret GRAB in the same satellite.

It was declassified on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Naval Research Lab. GRAB produced a large volume of data which was difficult to process. The conversion of analog to digital in the 1960s facilitated this process in subsequent satellites. The newer Parcae satellites were declassified last year as part of the NRL 100th celebration. I’ve put together a panel discussing this for a conference early next year. I should find out in late summer if it’s approved. Stay tuned.

This was the first time a rocket launched two satellites: a Transit Navsat and the SOLRAD/GRAB satellite. Here’s my father’s colleague Marty Votaw on the left with the two satellites.

Published in Science & Technology
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  1. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Thanks, Richard. Always enjoy your space-history updates.

    (Note to Brave users: The video auto-played for me, something I studiously disallow. If you’re using Brave, turning that off is a little buried: Go to Settings->Privacy and Security->Site and Shield Settings->Additional Permissions->AutoPlay.)

    • #1
  2. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    The video not only auto plays one video it auto plays every Daily Motion video that follows it.

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  3. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    The video not only auto plays one video it auto plays every Daily Motion video that follows it.

    I substituted another link to the same video which should not have this problem.

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  4. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    The video not only auto plays one video it auto plays every Daily Motion video that follows it.

    That’s standard misbehavior for Daily Motion.

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  5. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    The video not only auto plays one video it auto plays every Daily Motion video that follows it.

    I substituted another link to the same video which should not have this problem.

    Thank you

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  6. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    What rocket did they fly on? Thor Agena?

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  7. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    What rocket did they fly on? Thor Agena?

    Thor-Ablestar

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  8. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    What rocket did they fly on? Thor Agena?

    Thor-Ablestar

    Second stage from Vanguard, I believe. Appropriate for NRL.

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  9. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Finally got around to watching the video (and apologies for the early thread-derail with the video playback comment).

    The acronym “GRAB” kind of hints at the satellite’s function, so it’s amusing that the justification for the acronym, Galactic Radiation And Background, is so utterly fanciful.

    I’m sure most people don’t know just how far ahead of us was the Soviet Union in the early 60s. Not only were they first to put a satellite and a man in orbit, but in 59 they beat us to getting a rocket to the moon (albeit with a planned “hard” landing), and they attempted flights to both Mars and Venus in 60 and 61, respectively. (The Mars launch blew up on the pad, and Venera went dark a few days into its trip to Venus.) 

    They were eating our lunch.

    The video ends with the comment that “The USA remains above and beyond all other nations when it comes to space-based electronic intelligence….” A few years ago I’d have felt more confident about that, but China has demonstrated a greater ability for technological innovation than I thought their culture would allow, and I’m concerned that DEI is hampering our own innovative spirit.

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  10. Cosmik Phred Member
    Cosmik Phred
    @CosmikPhred

    More stuff re:  Thor.

    My first real job out of college was with Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and my first account was Delco Systems Operations in Santa Barbara.  Delco was heavy into inertial guidance and built the INS for Thor and the guidance computer for Titan II.

    It was always a big deal when there were Delta or Titan launches.  There would be posters around the facility commemorating each successful flight.  The credit going to engineers in Santa Barbara and the production folks back in Milwaukee who built the “boxes.”

    I’m not sure if it’s fully appreciated, but the taxpayers sure got their money’s worth from short-lived IRBMs and ICBMs as they developed into launch vehicles.  Sure, one could be squeamish about spy satellites.  But interplanetary probes and the early manned space programs would not have been possible without our desire to bring the hurt to the Russkies from thousands of miles away.

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