Gee Dwayne, you don't even pimp your own articles around here..... :)

"Later this week the National Reconnaissance Office is going to reveal information on two of its Cold War era satellite programs, HEXAGON and GAMBIT, and publicly unveil hardware that has been classified for decades."

You mentioned they dropped the film back to earth and the programs were used up to the mid eighties. Were the film versions used up until the eighties, and where did the film splash down, and what team retrieved it? (assuming you might know that at this stage)
Fliers that were being handed out in Udvar Hazy Parking Lot today....

I will PDF these eventually, but for now, these teasers will do...


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300 DPI scans of specific handout details:


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Apologies for blurriness of these; these are from mass produced laser printout copies...


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Now, here's a exclusive:

I got photographs of the GAMBIT that was on display for the 4,000 person reception that night. It was behind a curtain in the main hall of U-H, just past where the F-14 is.

Don't ask me how I got them. B)


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Some more GAMBIT pix:


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I do wish my camera had been a 5D Mark II; I could have gotten much clearer and brighter pictures. U-H is murder on cameras.


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When I went back out before I left, they had a TV playing restored footage from some formerly top secret information film on the HEXAGON program, and every so often, the screen and sound would cut to this blank screen and say REDACTED. :'(


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nice Illustration for those documents on NRO Webpage
you known about there spysats, with allot blacked phrase in it...
Now onto HEXAGON.


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Last HEXAGON pix...


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Some statistics from the displays there:

92 x GAMBITs from July 1963 - April 1984
20 x HEXAGONs from June 1971 - April 1986

GAMBIT 1: 724 average targets/mission for 27,534 targets total.
GAMBIT 2: 12,978 average targets/mission for 700,812 targets total.

One GAMBIT 3 mission acquired 27,652 frames with 49,372 targets!

The average HEXAGON mission covered 46 million square nautical miles.

The total coverage from all 20 HEXAGONs launched was 877 million square nautical miles and 104 million square nautical miles covered with the mapping cameras.
also a BIG THX from me

Sad they not display KH-10 DORIAN in his Manned Orbital Laboratory form...

Thank you RyanCrierie. I was crossing my fingers that someone on the net would take a bumper load of pictures, and you delivered the goods.
Orionblamblam said:
RyanCrierie said:
...Nah, probably the same way I got those shots of that small model of one of the Orion concepts that was going to be revealed by our pathetic excuse for a governor during one of my trips to JSC/Space Center Disney. I ducked under the ropes, took my pictures, and when the big, fat, hippie-haired security thug tried to harass me, I pointed out how stupid he'd look trying to arrest someone like me, who's obviously *not* an "A-Rab Tallybanned Terrorist Scumbag", for just getting pictures of something that wasn't secret in the first place. He actually walked away with a dumbfounded stare in his eyes, like I'd actually blown out his one or two brain cells.

...In all seriousness, tho, Ryan probably knows someone who let him duck under the ropes and/or peek behind the curtain where Carol Merrill is standing. I'm just jealous as hell that *I* wasn't the one who got the photo-op, as I learned very early on with my own professional photography gigs how to aim straight, shoot fast, and get as many pictures using the "shotgun method" as possible. You'll wind up with some pics that aren't framed/exposed/focused right, but surprisingly enough the number of bad pics will be far less than you'd expect. Before I got "Stumpy" and had to back off of the fast shoots, I was averaging - and this is the truth - about one bad shot per ~300, and those were usually the result of the autofocus on either of my Canon twins locking on the wrong focal point.

Regardless of professional jealousy, damn fine shots, Ryan. And thanks for sharing them at high-res, too!

RyanCrierie said:

I do wish my camera had been a 5D Mark II; I could have gotten much clearer and brighter pictures. U-H is murder on cameras.

...The *only* museum I have ever visited that didn't require the use of flash/glare photography was the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston. The place was surprisingly well-lit even in the one area where they had glassed-in displays - mostly uniforms, medals and other small things that could sprout legs and walk if they weren't encased - and the only reason I took any shots with the flash was to contrast/compare how the exhibits looked under both conditions. Sadly, due to a combination of work issued followed by the arrival of "Stumpy", I haven't been down to Galveston to see the museum since Hurricane Ike essentially trashed the place, but from what I understand the guys and gals down there have gotten the place opened and cleaned up to where it's pretty much as it was pre-Ike. I really should donate a couple of CD copies of the photos I took next time I manage to drop down there, just so they'll have another source of reference for future use. While it may not be U-H or even that place in Kansas, the LSFM is still one of the best aviation museums in the state, if not the US. And that's not just because it's the best lit one, either. ;D
Three formerly classified reconnaissance satellites now on display at National Museum USAFby Rob Bardua
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force1/26/2012 - DAYTON, Ohio -- Military, government and industry officials gathered today to officially place three formerly classified reconnaissance satellites on public display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

The three satellites: Gambit 1 KH-7, Gambit 3 KH-8 and Hexagon KH-9, 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.

Passing in space high over their targets, these satellites used specially-designed film and cameras to take photos in orbit. The satellites were unmanned and unlikely to be shot down, and therefore minimized risks to military personnel while still obtaining information about areas of the world that the United States could not access.

Led by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the Department of Defense (DOD), U.S. Air Force, Central Intelligence Agency, and industry worked together to create these amazingly complex and capable satellites.

According to NRO Director and Air Force Gen. (Ret.) Bruce Carlson, NRO reconnaissance systems - from planes to satellites such as Gambit and Hexagon - have been and continue to be the foundation for global situational awareness in protection of our nation.

"Last year the NRO celebrated its 50th anniversary, and we announced the declassification of two NRO systems, Gambit and Hexagon, which were America's eyes in space and the most sophisticated satellites of their time," said Carlson. "These systems were critical for monitoring key targets in the USSR and around the globe and provided much-needed cartographic information to the DOD to produce accurate, large-scale maps."

Gambit 1 satellites were the first American high-resolution space reconnaissance systems. This first generation of Gambit vehicle flew from 1963-1967. Gambit 1 added important new close-up capability to wide-search satellites already in use and were the first satellites to feature stereo high resolution cameras.

Gambit 3 satellites improved upon the Gambit 1 by providing much better image resolution in tracking adversaries' weapons development. Gambit 3 was a long-lived system, and completed 54 missions from 1966-1984. The most notable advancement from Gambit 1 to Gambit 3 was the addition of a "roll joint" between the camera module 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.

Hexagon satellites were the largest and last U.S. intelligence satellites to return photographic film to earth. Hexagon provided vital intelligence and mapping photos from space that allowed U.S. planners to counter Cold War threats. Between 1971 and 1984, 19 Hexagon missions imaged 877 million square miles of the earth's surface. Objects smaller than two feet across could be imaged from around 80-100 miles altitude. Analysts could search broad and wide areas for threats with Hexagon, and then focus in on suspect areas with surveillance from Gambit satellites.

Both Gambit and Hexagon systems returned exposed film to earth in re-entry vehicles or "buckets" that separated from the satellite, fell through the atmosphere, and descended by parachute. Air Force aircraft were assigned to pluck the buckets from the sky at around 15,000 feet.

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Director Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jack Hudson said the three satellites are a great addition for the Air Force's national museum because the Air Force played a key role in space reconnaissance from the beginning.

"Gambit 1, Gambit 3 and Hexagon satellites are significant and rare artifacts, which will enable us to better present the story of Air Force operations in space," said Hudson. "The Air Force has provided launch, tracking, control and range safety services for reconnaissance satellites throughout the entire Cold War, and it continues these activities today."

To commemorate the event, Hudson presented Carlson with a painting of the Hexagon satellite by nationally recognized artist and Dayton, Ohio resident, Dr. Richard Black, which was commissioned by the Air Force Museum Foundation.

Eventually, the satellites will be placed in the museum's planned fourth building, which will house the Space Gallery, Presidential Aircraft Gallery and Global Reach Gallery.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force is located on Springfield Street, six miles northeast of downtown Dayton. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day). Admission and parking are free. For more information about the museum, visit

NOTE TO PUBLIC: For more information, please contact the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at (937) 255-3286.

NOTE TO MEDIA: For more information, please contact Rob Bardua at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Division at (937) 255-1386.


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The KH-8/GAMBIT-3 is not opened up like the KH-7/GAMBIT-1 is. This is a shame. I hope that they have plans to display it better at some point.
Just announced on Steven Aftergood's FAS / secrecy blog: "A massive quantity of historical intelligence satellite imagery from the KH-9 HEXAGON program is being declassified and will be made public in a series of releases that are scheduled over the coming year, intelligence community officials say."

[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif][/size]... the rest of the story can be found there:[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif][/font]
Phil Pressel's book on the Hexagon (which I helped edit) is on sale, along with a bunch of other AIAA Press books. They are available far cheaper than you can get anywhere else at any other time:


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GAMBIT: The Eye of the Eagle

National Reconnaissance Office
Published on Jul 13, 2018

Overview of GAMBIT, a historical national reconnaissance program.
Gambit Hexagon Declassification Overview

National Reconnaissance Office
Published on Jul 13, 2018

Overview of historical GAMBIT and HEXAGON national reconnaissance program
I wonder when the KH-11 will ever be declassified. The current status seems that they are still in use after 40 years of service.

Given the cancellation of the "Future Imaging Architecture" (optical part) replacement, they may be waiting till something really new comes along like diffractive membrane optics or photonic chips. There are some interesting concepts but who knows if they are being pursued. You wouldn't want a super wide angle high resolution setup like this but it shows what you can do with novel configurations and today's electronics.
It’s believed that Block 1 KH-11 maybe declassified this year.

By the way the first Block 5 KH-11 is expected to be launched later this year.

Above Top Secret: the last flight of the Big Bird

by Dwayne A. Day
Monday, February 18, 2019

By the early 1980s, the HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite program was scheduled to end. Only a few more of the heavy, schoolbus-sized spacecraft were under construction. Efforts by senior Air Force officials within the Los Angeles office of the highly classified National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to either build more spacecraft, or use the Space Shuttle to recover and relaunch one or more of the last satellites, had been rejected as impractical or too expensive. The NRO leadership in Washington instead chose to stretch out the remaining launches, keeping the satellites in orbit longer and taking more images. The HEXAGON had a powerful dual camera system also known as the KH-9 and capable of imaging almost the entire Soviet landmass in a single mission. Because of that, the 20th and last HEXAGON spacecraft, scheduled for launch in spring 1986, became very important to many members of the intelligence community.

But what has not been known until now is that the last HEXAGON spacecraft acquired an additional top secret sensor and intelligence mission in addition to its primary job of taking medium resolution photography of vast amounts of territory. The spacecraft was also supposed to fly twice as long as any previous HEXAGON mission. On April 26, 1986, the last HEXAGON spacecraft—which was euphemistically referred to as “the big bird” by launch crews—lifted off atop a Titan 34D at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

And then the rocket blew up.

An enigma behind the curtain: the Tallinn anti-ballistic missile system and satellite intelligence

by Chris Manteuffel
Monday, March 18, 2019

For the first two decades of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was far behind the US in nuclear weapons and relied on deception as its main deterrent. They managed to deceive the US first that there was a bomber gap, then a missile gap, and that the US was falling further and further behind. In 1961, the Soviets had just four intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs) launch pads, at a time when the US deployed almost 200, but the Soviets claimed to be building missiles “like sausages from a machine” and that they had outstripped US production.[1] Then American spy technology—the U-2 plane and satellites—proved US stockpiles were massively superior to the Soviet arsenal and the US happily reduced missile production.[2]

But that was hardly the last time intelligence affected US strategic deployment. The same technology, just a few years later, would incite rather than calm fears of a potential Soviet advance in anti-ballistic missile technologies, leading to deploying new weapons and the largest number of strategic nuclear weapons ever in US history. Due to the limitations of photographs, it is really hard to know how fast a missile can accelerate, how far it can travel, or how fast a radar can track a target. In the case of what was known as the Tallinn System, those very questions caused the US to develop more weapons than they would have otherwise, weapons that were in hindsight unnecessary.
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