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The first Corona Photographic Surveillance Satellite was launched in 1959. Starting from the third mission, launched in 1961, the satellites were equipped with a star tracker. From Wikipedia:

Beginning with the KH-3 version of the satellite, a horizon camera took images of several key stars. A sensor used the satellite's side thruster rockets to align the rocket with these "index stars," so that it was correctly aligned with the Earth and the cameras pointed in the right direction.

How did this sensor work? CCDs weren't invented until 1969, so it must have been some analog device.

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    $\begingroup$ The original shuttle star trackers were tubes. Presumably these were too but I have no knowledge of them. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Nov 30 '19 at 13:34
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I think, though I'm not certain, that Wikipedia is in fact wrong in this situation, probably for the reason you just mentioned.

From this article, A square peg in a cone-shaped hole: The Samos E-5 recoverable satellite (part 2):

Herther had determined that a launch vehicle’s inertial measurement system’s gyroscopes would drift during the powered flight to orbit and therefore needed to be augmented with horizon sensors that told the guidance system what direction was up and down. The Agena therefore had horizon sensors as a direct result of his MIT research.

(note that although the article is nominally about the E-5 project, a separate satellite design, it used the same Agena upper stage that CORONA did)

I believe that only horizon sensors were used to feed the attitude control hardware. The exact orientation of the satellite was determined by looking at stars, but after the fact. The index cameras were side-looking devices which took additional photographs that were added to the film roll before and after the main camera fired.

Here's an example bit of output (thumbnail size only, alas) from The First Remote Sensing Satellite: Corona (Visible Imagery)

CORONA imagery of Severodvinsk

Note the horizon images at either end of the first and third strips. These would presumably have been used by the image interpreters to help precisely reconstruct the terrain being viewed.

edit and found this in Intelligence Revolution 1960: Retrieving the CORONA imagery that helped win the Cold War:

The guidance system consisted of three-axis gyros and Infrared (IR) sensors. These two IR sensors looked at the first space break point. Nitrogen cold gas jets acted as miniature rocket engines to drive the needed stabilization and pointing motion of the spacecraft and push the spacecraft as needed in no-gravity space.

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    $\begingroup$ Fascinating, and makes total sense, thinking about it. Excellent find! $\endgroup$ – Ludo Nov 30 '19 at 18:06

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