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Home > Fact Sheets > GAMBIT 3: KH-8 Reconnaissance Satellite


Posted 10/16/2014 Printable Fact Sheet
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Gambit 3 KH-8
DAYTON, Ohio -- Gambit 3 KH-8 is one of three formerly classified reconnaissance satellites now on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The three satellites were among the most important U.S. photo reconnaissance systems used from the 1960s to the 1980s, and played a critical role in winning the Cold War and maintaining U.S. national security. (U.S. Air Force Photo)
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The GAMBIT 3 KH-8 photo reconnaissance satellite improved upon the GAMBIT 1 KH-7 by providing much better image resolution. Its great spot-surveillance capability complemented both CORONA and later HEXAGON wide-search satellites in tracking adversaries' weapons development. GAMBIT 3 was a long-lived system, and completed 54 missions from 1966 to 1984.

The most notable advancement from GAMBIT 1 to GAMBIT 3 was the addition of a "roll joint" between the camera module (the forward part on display) and the Agena control vehicle in the rear. This rolling joint made the satellite extremely stable as a photo platform, conserved film, and increased the number of targets photographed. In addition, new super-thin photographic film allowed the vehicle to carry more film.

General Electric built both the vehicle housing GAMBIT 3 cameras and the recovery capsules, while Eastman Kodak made the cameras. Lockheed built the Agena spacecraft. The Air Force launched GAMBIT 3 KH-8 satellites aboard Titan IIIB rockets from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and provided tracking and control at an Air Force facility at Sunnyvale, Calif.. USAF aircraft recovered the film capsules in midair near Hawaii.

65-90 nautical miles
Mission duration: 31 days average
Camera: KH-8, Eastman Kodak f/4.09, focal length 175 in., aperture 43.5 in.
Film: up to 12,241 ft. long, 5 and 9 in. widths
Image resolution: Less than 2 ft.
Film return capsules: 1, and 2 in. later missions
Payload weight: 4,130 lbs.

Click here to return to the Cold War Gallery or here to return to Cold War in Space: Top Secret Reconnaissance Satellites Revealed.

Find Out More
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Related Fact Sheets
GAMBIT 1: KH-7 Reconnaissance Satellite
HEXAGON: KH-9 Reconnaissance Satellite
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Declassified Satellites on Display (00:02:10)
Reconnaissance Satellites Now on Display (00:01:34)
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Dr. Robert McDonald & Dr. James Outzen: Space Reconnaissance (01:02:22)
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Other Resources
National Reconnaissance Office
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