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Gambit 3 — the “Key Hole” KH-8 spy satellite

11 April 2012

Gambit 3 — the “Key Hole” KH-8 spy satellite

Lockheed and Eastman Kodak expanded on their Key Hole spy satellite successes with KH-8 Gambit 3, for the National Reconnaissance Office, which flew 51 successful missions beginning in July 1966 until April 1984. Like its predecessor, the KH-7, Gambit 3 was also a photo recon bird taking high resolution photographs using four cameras and vastly improved black and white film. Resolution reportedly was twice as good as that of the KH-7 at 0.5 meters.

Three cameras were used for orientation purposes regarding the primary image taken by the main camera, a single strip design which motored the film over a slit aperture. Eastman Kodak, which had begun the Key Hole program with excellent film, had improved the film used in the late KH-8 missions to have an extremely high uniform silver halide crystal size/shape (reducing noise) and less than 900Å (Angstrom) size (increasing the resolving power). Two “buckets” (film re-entry vehicles) were now carried, with regard to the KH-7 (see earlier post). A personal note, it was on a few of these missions that a friend of mine had a place in — he and the team he was on would fly to the recovery area (several hundred miles northwest of Hawaii) and were prepared to parachute into the Pacific Ocean to recover the film capsule should the mid-air capture fail.

This satellite is a recent addition to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, which was recently visited by Jayne Davis who courteously lent these images to this blog under her copyright.

Here is the KH-8 fact sheet from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

Cutaway of the KH-8 vehicle showing engine, camera and film subassemblies — photo courtesy of the National Reconnaissance Office

Rear of the KH-8 vehicle, the engine could be used to alter the KH-8 satellites orbit after insertion which provided for greatly enhanced mission flexibility — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

Schematic illustrating the light path through the camera port, lenses, then the recovery vehicles — photo courtesy of the National Reconnaissance Office

2 Comments leave one →
  1. themavf14d permalink
    12 April 2012 11:24

    A few days after this KH-8 was put on display I was at the Museum. I got there early to take some pics. Anyway I was making my way around the back of the KH-8 and saw a few of the volunteers peering at the “aft rack” section of the satellite. They showed me a piece of plywood(!) that looked like it was being used as a bracing member of the frame.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      12 April 2012 11:32

      Maybe it was “Space Age Plywood” 😉

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