Background


POPPY is the
code name given to a series of U.S. intelligence satellites operated by the
National Reconnaissance Office. The POPPY satellites recorded ELINT data,
targeting radar installations in the Soviet Union and Soviet naval ships at
sea.


The POPPY
program was a continuation within NRO’s Program C of the Naval Research
Laboratory’s Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB) ELINT program, also known
as Tattletale. The National Security Agency was given the responsibility of collecting,
interpreting, and reporting the signals intercepted.


The
existence of the POPPY program was declassified by the NRO in September 2005,
although most of the details about its capabilities and operation are still
classified. The NRO revealed, though, that the POPPY satellites, like other US
SIGINT systems, used the principle of signals time difference of arrival, which
enables precise locating of an object.[1] All POPPY launches orbited multiple
satellites. The first POPPY launch included two satellites, launch #2 and #3
three satellites each, and subsequent launches orbited four satellites
each. The full configuration thus employed four vehicles in low Earth
orbit.


There were
seven launches of POPPY satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base from 1962
until 1971, all of which were successful. The program continued until August
1977.


Declassified Documents


The
Poppy Satellite – First Launch [100 Pages]
– All documents released from
the National Reconnaissance Office, as of 14 August 2006.


The
History of the Poppy Satellite System


Abstract:
This report describes the history of the Poppy project from its concept in 1958
through its termination on 30 September 1977. This history was compiled at the
request of the Director National Reconnaissance Office to the Director, Program C.


Included
in this report are the significant events during the nineteen years of the
Poppy project, including the development and refinement of POPPY satellites,


mission ground stations,
ground readout equipment; analog analysis, and data processing. The impact of
failures, problems and anomalies are evaluated. Successes of the Poppy project
are measured against program objectives. Technical cost history, key
contributions, a glossary of terms related to the POPPY project, and a
bibliography are contained in annexes to the report.


Each of
the chapters in the report is intended to be somewhat self-contained. Annex i
contains a summary of mission characteristics and merges some information from
the third throughout the seventh chapters in order to provide a chronological
summary of the technological innovations in the order of the launches.


The
History of the Poppy Satellite System
, 2016 Release [98 Pages, 9.5MB]
– In October of 2016, I requested a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) of
this document. Previously, the last release of it was in 2012. I was successful
in getting the NRO to release additional portions of the report, that have
never been released before. I archived the 2012 version below, for reference.


The
History of the Poppy Satellite System
, 2012 Release [97 Pages, 2.5MB]



Raising
the Periscope… GRAB and POPPY: America’s Early ELINT Satellites
 [27
Pages, 1.5MB] – We offer in this publication a brief history of Grab
and Poppy—two of the earliest U.S. satellite-based electronic
intelligence (ELINT) programs. Our brief history represents the scope of
programmatic details that former Director of Central Intelligence George
Tenet authorized the Director of National Reconnaissance to declassify.1
Our goal was to produce a consolidated summary of these programs on the
occasion of DNRO Donald Kerr’s recognition of key contributors to
the Poppy program.2 Although security constraints limit how much we
can say about these programs, we present an overview and summary of
Poppy’s early contributions to national security. Such information can
provide current NRO program managers with an unclassified historical
context for programmatic and policy decisions.