Author Topic: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites  (Read 125686 times)

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #100 on: 02/12/2022 08:13 pm »
GAMBIT3 had the advantage of a mature OCV, but was subject to "immaturity associated with the extension of technology that is being accomplished". For the first 8 GAMBIT launches (including one booster failure) the report states "So far, the best of these tests, quite predictably, have produced photography averaging about 70 percent above the ground resolution which the mature system will achieve".


The GAMBIT PET reports would probably explain this. I wonder if the issue was pointing the vehicle? Back in the late 1990s I interviewed a guidance, navigation and control guy who was brought in around that time to look at Agena guidance issues. He could not talk about why, but he said that the Air Force needed somebody to confirm that the vehicle would do what the contractor claimed.

Offline LittleBird

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #101 on: 02/13/2022 07:02 am »
The MOL release includes bits&pieces on GAMBIT and GAMBIT3. The attached example is an analysis of the problems encountered at the beginning of the operational phase of either of the projects, and the initial performance.

GAMBIT started off with a best ground resolution distance of 10' to 15'. A best resolution of around 3ft was only achieved for 5 out of the first 15 GAMBIT missions. This includes a number of mission failures related to the Orbital Control Vehicle (OCV).

Buried in the CREST records database is a CIA memo, probably from late 1963, where they are practically gloating that the early GAMBIT missions didn't perform very well.

And I remember that Jeff Richelson said that the first GAMBIT missions were lousy. He probably references that in one of his books.

It's in 1990's "America's Secret Eyes In Space" which I think is where I first saw the story [pp. 77-78]. He says

Quote
Unfortunately the initial GAMBIT missions were unsuccessful. The orbit control apparatus of the spacecraft  coninued to malfunction, preventing stabilization, but a solution was eventually discovered; the spacecraft remained attached to the Agnena upper stage.

More generally it looks as if his earlier article "The Keyhole Satellite Program", from Journal of Strategic Studies, June 1984 was a particularly important ur-text; Burrows drew on it extensively in Deep Black, which refers correctly to KH-7, 8 etc, and had many other NRO-related things like one of the 7500 or 7600 numbers for GEO SIGINT etc.
[Edit: I should note that this article itself drew substantially on, and fully acknowledged, Klass's book and articles and the work of Anthony Kenden].

However things like the correct identification of KH-6 were still unknown until Secret Eyes in 1990.
« Last Edit: 02/13/2022 01:10 pm by LittleBird »

Offline hoku

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #102 on: 02/13/2022 08:11 am »
GAMBIT3 had the advantage of a mature OCV, but was subject to "immaturity associated with the extension of technology that is being accomplished". For the first 8 GAMBIT launches (including one booster failure) the report states "So far, the best of these tests, quite predictably, have produced photography averaging about 70 percent above the ground resolution which the mature system will achieve".

The GAMBIT PET reports would probably explain this. I wonder if the issue was pointing the vehicle? Back in the late 1990s I interviewed a guidance, navigation and control guy who was brought in around that time to look at Agena guidance issues. He could not talk about why, but he said that the Air Force needed somebody to confirm that the vehicle would do what the contractor claimed.

There was a GAMBIT3 presentation to the Presidential Scientific Advisory Committee (PSAC) on Aug 29, 1967. The memo on the meeting states: "The Panel was obviously displeased with the inability of the program to reach its [] resolution on the first series of flights."

This ist traced to

1) inability of the contractor to properly manufacture the stereo mirror
2) inability to test the optical quality during manufacture
3) inability to establish a well-defined plane of best focus

The presentation and book by John H. Shafer provide more details on the optical challenges, and the new calibration and testing methods EK had to devise. To me it seems that like DISCOVERY/CORONA, the early flight articles of GAMBIT and GAMBIT3 might best be considered development protoypes (i.e. not yet fully operational articles).

Would the PSAC reports from that time period be available in the LBJ library?

Offline libra

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #103 on: 02/13/2022 08:45 am »
So all this would be another chapter in the CIA's Bud Wheelon scorn and utter contempt for the Air Force spysat programs ?

They were rejoicing of the GAMBIT failures. Not very classy, and perhaps a bit counter-productive. No ?
I mean, the essential goal of NRP / NRO was to spy the USSR, correct ? rather than humiliating the Air Force ? 

Just sayin' , because Bud Wheelon attitude looks a bit childish... we are not discussing a schoolyard fight here, but rather important Cold War matters.

Offline LittleBird

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #104 on: 02/13/2022 09:45 am »
So all this would be another chapter in the CIA's Bud Wheelon scorn and utter contempt for the Air Force spysat programs ?

They were rejoicing of the GAMBIT failures. Not very classy, and perhaps a bit counter-productive. No ?
I mean, the essential goal of NRP / NRO was to spy the USSR, correct ? rather than humiliating the Air Force ? 

Just sayin' , because Bud Wheelon attitude looks a bit childish... we are not discussing a schoolyard fight here, but rather important Cold War matters.

I'm guessing you don't know a lot of theoretical physicists ;-) Having trained as one, I do ... I had to laugh at Steven Postrel's intro to a book review at https://reason.com/1997/05/01/of-sand-and-cities/ which contains more than a grain of truth imho.

Quote
Theoretical physicists are famous--or notorious--among their scientific colleagues for certain stereotypical traits: self-confidence shading into arrogance; a passion for reducing things to their essentials; a conviction that other fields could be easily mastered if they could afford to take the time; and an unwillingness to actually learn about those fields except under extreme duress.

Actually Wheelon was far more practical than that would imply, and very widely respected, as Richelson's obit of him confirms-well worth reading it in full.But he was also very young.

Wheelon evidently mellowed in his old age somewhat, to judge by Blackstar's interview with him and the Richelson obituary. I was particularly glad to see he was apparently reconciled with McMillan, according to the latter.

But the Program A vs B rivalry was seen as a feature as well as a bug by the Administration, and was encouraged at least to some extent.


Offline Jim

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #105 on: 02/13/2022 12:35 pm »

By the way, has the bottom left item in the Kodak mystery collection (first grab) been identified yet ? I assumed it was a ground based mockup of the DORIAN camera-is that right ?

10 feet in diameter would say so.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #106 on: 02/13/2022 01:54 pm »
So all this would be another chapter in the CIA's Bud Wheelon scorn and utter contempt for the Air Force spysat programs ?

I would not put all that on Wheelon. The relationship was going sour before that.

When you read through a lot of these documents (which I've been doing since the CORONA declassification in 1995), you really get a sense of how the relationship was changing over time. The Air Force ran Samos, and you have to consider that all of the Samos projects flopped. And when you look at things like the E-5, it's hard not to conclude that the Air Force was not totally focused on getting the best intelligence information possible. So imagine what that looked like from the CIA's perspective--they thought that the Air Force (and really, this was only a subset of the Air Force) had messed things up.

What got lost was that CORONA started out as part of Samos. And the early cooperation on CORONA was very good. But over time, as CORONA was successful and Samos was not, there was this attitude among some at the CIA that CORONA was successful because of the CIA, and the Air Force didn't know what it was doing. There were also people like General Schriever who had their own agendas.

So in 1961, 1962, 63, there was this gradual moving away of the two sides. The CIA had reasons to be suspicious, but the Air Force was also doing good work, but in some ways was over-shadowed by the bigger Air Force.

Offline LittleBird

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #107 on: 02/13/2022 02:00 pm »
So all this would be another chapter in the CIA's Bud Wheelon scorn and utter contempt for the Air Force spysat programs ?

I would not put all that on Wheelon. The relationship was going sour before that.

When you read through a lot of these documents (which I've been doing since the CORONA declassification in 1995), you really get a sense of how the relationship was changing over time. The Air Force ran Samos, and you have to consider that all of the Samos projects flopped. And when you look at things like the E-5, it's hard not to conclude that the Air Force was not totally focused on getting the best intelligence information possible. So imagine what that looked like from the CIA's perspective--they thought that the Air Force (and really, this was only a subset of the Air Force) had messed things up.

What got lost was that CORONA started out as part of Samos. And the early cooperation on CORONA was very good. But over time, as CORONA was successful and Samos was not, there was this attitude among some at the CIA that CORONA was successful because of the CIA, and the Air Force didn't know what it was doing. There were also people like General Schriever who had their own agendas.

So in 1961, 1962, 63, there was this gradual moving away of the two sides. The CIA had reasons to be suspicious, but the Air Force was also doing good work, but in some ways was over-shadowed by the bigger Air Force.

What I'd love to know is what he thought of CANYON ... because he was reportedly impressed by QUILL, another RF technology based project
« Last Edit: 02/13/2022 02:09 pm by LittleBird »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #108 on: 02/13/2022 03:55 pm »
They were rejoicing of the GAMBIT failures. Not very classy, and perhaps a bit counter-productive. No ?
I mean, the essential goal of NRP / NRO was to spy the USSR, correct ? rather than humiliating the Air Force ? 

Just sayin' , because Bud Wheelon attitude looks a bit childish... we are not discussing a schoolyard fight here, but rather important Cold War matters.

There's another side to this. When Itek pulled out of the FULCRUM program because they were having trouble getting along with the CIA, the Air Force NRO people were laughing. They thought that the CIA's arrogance had finally come back to bite them in the butt.

There's also a great account that I'll post later.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #109 on: 03/06/2022 08:03 pm »
From the Shafer book. I only got it today and have done a very brief skim. There's a lot in here about testing the cameras, and a lot of it is difficult to understand. However, he does discuss how increases in power required changes in the testing, including building new infrastructure.

For example, the GAMBIT-1 was tested on its side. All the testing equipment was laid out horizontally. But when they went to the larger GAMBIT-3, mounting the mirror on its edge would introduce distortion, so they had to test it vertically. They did that by mounting it at the bottom of an elevator shaft and testing it vertically.

MOL was a lot bigger and required a new test facility. It was also tested vertically.

Something that I don't think I realized before (or I forgot?) is that the focal length of the GAMBIT-3 was increased from 160 to 175 inches. I assume this happened with a block change. I'll have to look that up.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #110 on: 03/07/2022 10:29 pm »
Something that I don't think I realized before (or I forgot?) is that the focal length of the GAMBIT-3 was increased from 160 to 175 inches. I assume this happened with a block change. I'll have to look that up.

Responding to my earlier comment:

This slide was posted up-thread (by me). You can see where it indicates the longer focal length.

I guess the interesting thing here is that there was substantial improvement simply from improved films. Now I imagine there were some other tweaks in there, like better operational techniques, but before all of this stuff was declassified, I would have guessed that most of the improvements would have come from better optics. But we can see that better film mattered a lot too.

Offline hoku

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #111 on: 07/20/2022 02:09 am »
Some oddity in the Technical Evaluation Report of Mission 4015 (Jan 23 to 27, 1965). Observation of a CORN target at Outlaw Field, Clarksville, TN, was coordinated with (almost) simultaneous coverage by a RB-47 "Blackbird". The "Blackbird" was imaged by GAMBIT close to the CORN target, confirming it as a RB-47.

Was the "Blackbird" nickname assigned to the RB-47 to obfuscate the existence or nature of the SR-71 (which just had its 1st flight a month earlier)? Or was "Blackbird" the generic term for reconnaissance missions by planes, which was then attributed to the SR-71 due to its black color?

https://www.nro.gov/Portals/65/documents/foia/declass/ForAll/012022/F-2021-00089_C05134483.pdf

Offline Blackstar

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Offline LittleBird

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #113 on: 07/20/2022 07:35 am »
Some oddity in the Technical Evaluation Report of Mission 4015 (Jan 23 to 27, 1965). Observation of a CORN target at Outlaw Field, Clarksville, TN, was coordinated with (almost) simultaneous coverage by a RB-47 "Blackbird". The "Blackbird" was imaged by GAMBIT close to the CORN target, confirming it as a RB-47.

Was the "Blackbird" nickname assigned to the RB-47 to obfuscate the existence or nature of the SR-71 (which just had its 1st flight a month earlier)? Or was "Blackbird" the generic term for reconnaissance missions by planes, which was then attributed to the SR-71 due to its black color?

https://www.nro.gov/Portals/65/documents/foia/declass/ForAll/012022/F-2021-00089_C05134483.pdf

Really nice Hoku. Do we know date of first instance of  a satellite imaging a flying aircraft ? You are reminding me of the great overhead U-2 pics of a shuttle launch that ran on a Quest cover once upon a time ...

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #114 on: 07/26/2022 02:22 am »
https://thespacereview.com/article/4426/1

Advanced Gambit and VHR
by Philip Horzempa
Monday, July 25, 2022

Newly declassified documents from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) have revealed a previously unknown member of the Gambit reconnaissance satellite family. This was referred to as the Advanced Gambit-3 (AG3), though it is quite different from the standard Gambit-3 vehicles. It is so different from previous models that it could, and should, be referred to as Gambit-4. The AG3 included a camera that resembled the KH-10 from the Dorian Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program.

One is left to ponder the logic that led to the AG3 proposal. The NRO documents indicate that the project was started in 1973 with the first mission scheduled for mid-1978. This new series would have begun with mission #55 in the Gambit-3 series (the last Gambit-3/KH-8 mission was #54). At this time, the Hexagon KH-9 spacecraft was just entering service and the KH-11 was still a few years in the future.


Offline libra

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #115 on: 07/26/2022 07:18 am »
Cool, an hybrid of DORIAN and GAMBIT. Would they call it DORIT (like the Pixar fish) ? or DOBIT, like Harry Potter Elve ?

Online edzieba

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #116 on: 07/26/2022 07:48 am »
One point against the MMT mirrors being AG3 fold flats is that the MMT mirrors are round with round holes, whereas the fold mirrors would have been ovals with oval holes (as on GAMBIT3). Of course, they could have been ground out and/or ground down to fit their new role (as well as the documentation of them being slumped from flats).
If there are any images of the backsides of the MMT mirrors that would clear up some of the mystery: the original mirror  'eggcrate' structure would show telltale signs of the original configuration.

Offline hoku

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #117 on: 07/26/2022 08:35 pm »
<snip>
If there are any images of the backsides of the MMT mirrors that would clear up some of the mystery: the original mirror  'eggcrate' structure would show telltale signs of the original configuration.

New Scientist, April 13, 1978 on the MMT: "(...) 72-inch primary fused silica mirrors of hollow design weighting only 1200 lbs each. Inch-thick front and rear silica plates are braced by an 11-inch-wide array of internal silica stiffeners in an egg-crate pattern of one-inch squares sealed with an outer wall."

I'm not sure, though, if I understand your question. Do you expect a curved front, and a flat back plate? My guess is that the MMT mirrors look like smaller versions of the HST primary posted at
https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=29545.msg2347340#msg2347340

Offline LittleBird

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #118 on: 07/27/2022 05:06 am »
Cool, an hybrid of DORIAN and GAMBIT. Would they call it DORIT (like the Pixar fish) ? or DOBIT, like Harry Potter Elve ?

I like the Dickensian DORRIT, which presumably could have a smaller version called the DORITO ;-);-) ... presumably a little DORRIT ...
« Last Edit: 07/27/2022 05:06 am by LittleBird »

Offline LittleBird

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #119 on: 07/27/2022 05:15 am »
https://thespacereview.com/article/4426/1

Advanced Gambit and VHR
by Philip Horzempa
Monday, July 25, 2022

Newly declassified documents from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) have revealed a previously unknown member of the Gambit reconnaissance satellite family. This was referred to as the Advanced Gambit-3 (AG3), though it is quite different from the standard Gambit-3 vehicles. It is so different from previous models that it could, and should, be referred to as Gambit-4. The AG3 included a camera that resembled the KH-10 from the Dorian Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program.

One is left to ponder the logic that led to the AG3 proposal. The NRO documents indicate that the project was started in 1973 with the first mission scheduled for mid-1978. This new series would have begun with mission #55 in the Gambit-3 series (the last Gambit-3/KH-8 mission was #54). At this time, the Hexagon KH-9 spacecraft was just entering service and the KH-11 was still a few years in the future.

Thanks, Blackstar and indeed Phil. One of many fascinating things about this, as I'm sure you're all aware, is that it represents a significant proposed modification of an existing launcher during the pre-Shuttle run-up period, and before the Hans Mark era. At this point the Shuttle would still have aspired to make its East Coast debut in 1978, though WTR was of course later even at that stage.

We know of a few more of these that went through to fruition for NRO but not that many, off the top of my head I can only think of

- Surplus Atlas ICBM-derived launchers for PARCAE
- Titan 33B going to 34B for JUMPSEAT and SDS
- ... ?



« Last Edit: 07/27/2022 05:17 am by LittleBird »

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