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Cutaway drawing of SAINT FSV.
Credit: USAF

American military anti-satellite system. Cancelled 1963.

AKA: SAtellite INTerceptor. Status: Cancelled 1963. Gross mass: 1,100 kg (2,400 lb).

Project SAINT (SAtellite INTerceptor) was a large and still deeply classified US Air Force program begun in the late 1950's covering a wide range of technologies for interception, inspection, and destruction of enemy spacecraft. After studies in the 1950's, a development contract was let to Radio Corporation of America at the end of 1960. Saint Phase I would have weighted 1,100 kg and been launched by Atlas D/Agena B. Phase II would have been twice as big and launched by Atlas Centaur. The project was cut back in October 1962 and eventually canceled. The spacecraft would have rendezvoused with hostile satellites and inspected them with television cameras.

The CIA's 1957 National Intelligence Estimate NIE 11-5-57 predicted that the Soviet Union would orbit a photo-reconnaissance satellite by 1963. The US Air Force response was prompt. GOR-170 was issued on 19 June 1958 for development of an anti-satellite weapons system. The Air Force and ARPA commissioned parallel feasibility studies by Space Technology Laboratory (STL) and Radio Corporation of America (RCA). The Air Force plan for SAINT (Satellite Inspector for Space Defense) was presented to the National Security Council on 5 February 1960. After various bureaucratic steps RCA received the contract to develop SAINT on 17 March 1961. The program was to consists of three phases:

The SAINT system developed by RCA consisted of:

The operational concept was for an immediate rendezvous after launch. The Agena B/FSV combination would be placed in an elliptical orbit ahead of the enemy satellite such that the target would be closing with SAINT at 180 m/s. Once the catch-up phase was complete, the Agena would burn to place the SAINT in a co-orbit with the target. SAINT's long range radar would search for the target. Once acquired, the Agena would be jettisoned. Within 8 to 12 minutes SAINT's radar and guidance systems would automatically maneuver the spacecraft until it was stationed 12 m from the target. For a Cape Canaveral launch, this would allow the satellite to provide an initial video and data dump to the ground station in Rhodesia. A full inventory of the target's characteristics would take two hours, and be recorded for relay to a ground station at the first opportunity. SAINT would stay within 60 m of the target for 48 hours, closing repeatedly for imaging and measurements from different angles. After that it would run out of battery power and propellant.

There were to four SAINT development launches, later increased to eight, with the first launch planned for December 1962. However before that could happen, Secretary of Defense McNamara cancelled SAINT and the SAINT-II manned follow-on program. Internal wrangling within the Air Force, the inability of the system to operate in nuclear-war conditions, and the limited number of SAINT's that could be launched at once all factored into the decision.

Several target kill mechanisms were suggested for Phase 3 versions. The spacecraft could just collide with the target or, it was suggested, just spray it with black paint.

By the late 1960's, the idea of rendezvous for inspection of satellites was pretty much abandoned. It could be hazardous to the inspecting vehicle. The Russians from the very beginning installed destruct packages on their military satellites. These would blow up the satellite and anything near it. The sophisticated Russian APO-2 automatic destruct system could be set off by ground control or automatically if it sensed that normal spacecraft operating parameters were exceeded. The task of simply inspecting enemy satellites could be accomplished more safely at long ranges using existing reconnaissance satellites. These could be maneuvered to examine not just ground targets, but other spacecraft as well (as was done on an early shuttle flight to see if there was damage on the belly tiles). Earth-based cameras also were providing very high quality pictures of satellites.

The ASAT role itself, following identification and tracking, could be more cheaply accomplished by sub-orbital interceptors launched from earth. These could hit a satellite in any orbit without warning.

However none of these drawbacks stopped the Soviet Union from developing and operating its own equivalent system from 1969 to 1984

Family: anti-satellite, Military, Military anti-satellite system, Star Wars. Country: USA. Launch Vehicles: Atlas, Atlas Agena D. Agency: USAF, RCA. Bibliography: 37, 400, 433, 585, 83.

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