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GAMBIT 3 KH-8 Reconnaissance Satellite

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

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, on loan from the National Reconnaissance Office (Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance), is currently in storage.

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)

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Find Out More
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Reconnaissance Satellites Now on Display (00:01:34)
Dr. Robert McDonald & Dr. James Outzen: "Space Reconnaissance" (01:02:22)
Other Resources
National Reconnaissance Office