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GAMBIT 1 KH-7 Reconnaissance Satellite

Please Note: This artifact is currently in storage and off public display.

The GAMBIT 1 KH-7 satellite was the first American space reconnaissance system to consistently return high-resolution photographs. GAMBIT 1 vehicles flew from 1963-1967 and were the first satellites to feature stereo cameras. Their most significant targets included Soviet missile silos. Of 38 total missions in four years, 36 satellites achieved orbit.

GAMBIT 1 added important new close-up imagery capability to wide-area search satellites already in use. Earlier CORONA satellites took pictures of wide swaths of land to identify items of interest such as airfields and missile sites. The need for close-up surveillance of those targets led to the GAMBIT 1 KH-7. The GAMBIT system included a single film-recovery capsule at the nose and camera gear in the main body of the satellite.

General Electric built both the vehicle housing the KH-7 cameras and the satellite’s film recovery capsules, while Eastman Kodak made the cameras and provided the film. Lockheed built the Agena spacecraft that carried the satellite. The Air Force launched GAMBIT 1 KH-7 satellites aboard Atlas-Agena rockets from Vandenberg AFB, California, and provided tracking and control at an Air Force facility in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Exposed film returned to earth in the film return capsule, which fell through the atmosphere, descended by parachute and was recovered in midair by specially equipped USAF aircraft near Hawaii.

This satellite is on loan from the National Reconnaissance Office (Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance).

Altitude: 60-150 nautical miles
Mission duration: 6.6 days average
Camera: KH-7, Eastman Kodak, focal length 77 in, aperture 19.5 in, weight 1,102 lbs.
Film: length 3,000 feet, width 9.46 inches, weight 52 lbs., 300-600 stereo image pairs per roll
Image resolution: Objects on the ground 2-3 feet across could be seen in pictures taken in orbit
Payload weight: 1,154 lbs. (camera plus film)


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National Reconnaissance Office