The GAMBIT 1 KH-7 satellite was the first American high-resolution space reconnaissance system. This first generation of GAMBIT vehicle flew from 1963-1967. GAMBIT 1 added important new close-up capability to wide-search satellites already in use.
Film-return satellites came in two basic varieties: search and surveillance. CORONA satellites, first launched in 1960, were search systems. They took pictures of wide swaths of land to identify items of interest such as airfields and missile sites. But the need for close-up surveillance of those targets led to the GAMBIT 1 KH-7.
GAMBIT 1 was the first satellite to feature stereo high resolution cameras, and its most significant targets included Soviet missile silos. Of 38 total missions in four years, 36 satellites achieved orbit.
General Electric built both the vehicle housing GAMBIT 1 cameras and the recovery capsules, while Eastman Kodak made the cameras. Lockheed built the Agena spacecraft. The Air Force launched GAMBIT 1 KH-7 satellites aboard Atlas-Agena rockets from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and provided tracking and control at an Air Force facility at Sunnyvale, Calif. USAF aircraft recovered film capsules in flight near Hawaii.
Altitude: 60-150 nautical miles Mission duration: 6.6 days average Camera: KH-7, Eastman Kodak, f/4.0, focal length 77 in., aperture 19.5 in. Film: 3,000 ft. long, 9.46 in. wide Image resolution: 2-3 ft. Film return capsules: 1 Payload weight: 1,154 lbs.