Published March 14, 2016
DAYTON, Ohio -- Gambit 3 KH-8 is one of three formerly classified reconnaissance satellites on display in the Space Gallery 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)
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)
DAYTON, Ohio -- Gambit 3 KH-8 Reconnaissance Satellite on display in the Space Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force Photo)
GAMBIT 3 KH-8 schematic showing the folded path camera, roll joint connecting the Agena and payload sections, and dual film return vehicles. (Photo courtesy of National Reconnaissance Office)
This diagram shows how light traveled between mirrors before being corrected for distortion and finally focused on the film plane. (Photo courtesy of National Reconnaissance Office)
GAMBIT 3 KH-8 launch, operation and recovery sequence. (Photo courtesy of National Reconnaissance Office)
The GAMBIT 3 KH-8 photo reconnaissance satellite improved on the GAMBIT 1 KH-7 by providing much better image resolution. GAMBIT 3’s stereoscopic cameras focused on details in small target areas, while other satellites searched wide areas. GAMBIT 3 satellites completed 54 missions from 1966 to 1984.
The most notable improvement 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 GAMBIT 3 vehicle housing cameras and film recovery vehicles, while Eastman Kodak made the KH-8 cameras. Lockheed built the Agena spacecraft. The US Air Force launched GAMBIT 3 KH-8 satellites aboard Titan IIIB rockets from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and provided tracking and control at an Air Force facility at Sunnyvale, Calif.
Film recovery vehicles ejected from the satellites re-entered the atmosphere and then deployed parachutes. Specially equipped USAF aircraft caught the film vehicles in midair near Hawaii.
This artifact is on loan from the National Reconnaissance Office (Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance).
Altitude: 65-90 nautical miles
Mission duration: 31 days average
Camera: KH-8, Eastman Kodak, focal length 175 inches, aperture 43.5 inches
Film: length up to 12,241 feet, widths 5 and 9.5 inches
Image resolution: Objects on the ground less than 2 feet across could be seen on film exposed in orbit
Film recovery capsules: One (two in later missions)
Payload weight: 4,130 lbs. (cameras plus film)
Click here to return to the Space Gallery or here to return to Cold War in Space: Top Secret Reconnaissance Satellites Revealed.
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The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is located at:
1100 Spaatz Street
Wright-Patterson AFB OH 45433
(near Dayton, Ohio)