Galactic Radiation Background Experiment. The World's First Reconnaissance
GRAB was a U.S. Navy electronic intelligence (ELINT) satellite system
that became operational in July 1960 and was operated until August 1962.
GRAB was officially declassified in June 1998 during NRL's 75th anniversary
celebration. GRAB obtained information on Soviet air defense radars that
could not be observed by Air Force and Navy aircraft flying ELINT missions
along accessible borders in Europe and the western Pacific.
This ELINT satellite system was proposed by NRL in the spring of 1958.
In parallel with exploratory development by NRL, the Office of Naval Intelligence
obtained endorsements from elements of the executive and legislative branches
of the U.S. government. With positive recommendations from the Department
of State, the Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency,
President Eisenhower approved full development in August 1959.
NCST designed and built the GRAB satellite and a network of overseas
data collection facilities. The first launch was approved by President
Eisenhower in May 1960, just four days after a CIA U-2 aircraft was lost
on a reconnaissance mission over Soviet territory. The GRAB satellite
got a free ride into space in June 1960 with the Navy's third Transit
navigation satellite. GRAB carried two electronic payloads, the classified
ELINT package and instrumentation to measure solar radiation (SolRad).
The SolRad experiment was publicly disclosed in DoD press releases on
this and subsequent launches. Four more launches were attempted, and one
was successful on 29 June 1961.
GRAB received each pulse of a radar signal in a certain bandwidth, as
sensed by its tiny antennas, and transponded a corresponding signal to
collection huts at ground sites within its field of view. Operators in
the huts recorded GRAB's transponded information and couriered it to NRL
for evaluation. Subsequently, the National Security Agency and the Strategic
Air Command exploited GRAB's data to develop technical intelligence about
Soviet radar and to develop effective war plans.
For additional information about GRAB:
National Cryptologic Museum
This model of the GRAB satellite is on display
at the National Cryptologic Museum next door to the National
Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland
First GRAB Launch
NRL team at Cape Canaveral for spin test of
GRAB 1 atop Transit 2A