Technology Related to Hexagon at Perkin-Elmer

During the development and design of the Hexagon spy satellite system starting in 1966, with the first launch 5 years later in June 1971 and continuing on we at Perkin-Elmer did not have the following technologies until much later in the program and yet we achieved great success on the most complicated satellite of its day and perhaps still today.

  • NO CAD

  • NO MICROPROCESSORS

  • NO LED’S, NO CCD’S

  • LIMITED COMPUTER USE

  • NO POCKET CALCULATORS

  • NO DIGITAL PRINTERS (tracing paper drawings were converted to blueprints using large ammonia machines)

The tools we used were:

  • The Abacus (not really)

  • The slide rule

  • eventually the pocket calculator

  • eventually much more sophisticated computers programs

None the less our talented staff proudly developed the following new technologies that are in use today:

  • optical encoders

  • brushless DC motors

  • light pipes

  • complicated film handling mechanisms to move film at high speeds both linearly and in rotation

  • closed loop phase-lock servos

  • Kodak developed hi-resolution films both black and white and color

The incredible success we achieved really did provide so much intelligence for United States agencies and the military that enabled our government to make decisions that not only protected our security but helped keep peace in the world between 1971 and 1986, during the “cold war.”

 Credit must be given to over 1000 Perkin-Elmer employees   and of course to associated contractors, government agencies and Air Force and Navy personnel. In all of my work experience through retirement I have never worked with such a wonderful collection of smart and extremely competent people.

 They belonged to all of the following departments:

o  Systems engineering

o  Mechanical engineering

o  Electrical engineering

o  Design and drafting

o  Manufacturing

o  Optics

o  Testing

o  Quality assurance

o  Reliability

o  Technical documentation

o  Research

o  Program management

o  Sales and contracts

o  Upper management and technical staff

o  Administration and secretariat

o  Security

o  Machine shop

o  Building and facility staff

o  West coast field office

 I thank them all for their significant contributions and each time that I speak about Hexagon I honor them and Perkin-Elmer.

Phil Pressel

The Twister

The Twister and its Inventor, Don Cowles

A key patented invention that enabled the Hexagon camera system to succeed was that of the “twister.” This was a mechanical device, shown below, that allowed the film to travel both linearly and in rotation past the focal plane of the camera. It made the film travel over air bars that twisted back and forth in rotation and in synchronization with the rotating image.  

 

Twister, jpeg.jpg

Don Cowles, a mechanical engineer at Perkin-Elmer invented and developed the twister. He was acknowledged and honored at a celebration at Perkin-Elmer in Danbury, Connecticut many years ago by Chester Nimitz, Jr, CEO of Perkin-Elmer and attended by many other staff members of the program.

Don Cowles facing front .jpeg

The Underside of the Hexagon Reconnaissance Satellite

The Underside of the Hexagon Vehicle

This is a view of the underside of the Hexagon reconnaissance satellite. The imagery that 19 orbital missions produced over 15 years provided key intelligence information for the United States and helped keep the peace during the cold war.

The photo shows the aft section on the left that contained the film reels, the middle section contained the two cameras, one facing 10 degrees forward and the other facing 10 degrees to the rear, thus providing the ability to take stereo photos. The forward section contained four Re-Entry vehicles that periodically returned the used film to earth.

Underside of Hexgon vehicle .jpeg