Author Topic: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites  (Read 125680 times)

Online Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #400 on: 04/07/2024 10:26 pm »
My new article will appear in TSR on Monday evening. Thanks for the up-thread comments here that helped refine it.

Even with continued classification of the KENNEN system--we don't know much about the technology or development after the decision was made to develop the system--it's now possible to have an understanding of why/how the GAMBIT and HEXAGON systems continued even after KENNEN was operational.

On the issue of HEXAGON, there was just no way for KENNEN to cover as much territory as quickly as HEXAGON did. HEXAGON could make a single pass over Iraq and photograph almost the entire country. After the 1991 Operation Desert Storm, there was a report that indicated that HEXAGON's capability was still missed and that KENNEN was not providing the needed area coverage. And we should keep in mind that it was not just the coverage of the area, but that film was a very powerful way to record data. There was a lot of data in each strip of HEXAGON film.

GAMBIT is a more complicated story, but it was producing high resolution photos by 1974. My guess is that the average by that time was about 12 inches, and it was producing best imagery probably at least 25% better, so 8 inches. And my guess is that by the late 1970s, it was producing average imagery around 8 inches and best imagery around 4 inches. Just eyeballing the graphs posted above, you can see how they were heading there.

KENNEN had a larger mirror, but it was at a higher orbit. Plus, there's all the mysterious stuff about recording an image onto film vs. onto an imagery sensor. But before KENNEN was flying, the experts expected that GAMBIT would have higher resolution photos than KENNEN, and that improvements would happen faster and less expensively to GAMBIT than for KENNEN. In addition, it was much easier and cheaper to deal with improvements in resolution with film than with KENNEN. I don't have specific details on why, but it is easy to guess because improvements in KENNEN would have dramatically increased the amount of data that had to be stored. Anybody who ever dealt with scanning high-quality film slides or negatives knows that they can be big files, many megabytes or even tens of megabytes, and 30-50 years ago, storing even a few megabytes at a time was a major computing challenge, let alone manipulating them. In contrast, it was easy to simply duplicate a film negative and enlarge it.

But digital had other advantages that were going to become more important over time. Thanks to some assistance, I briefly describe these in the upcoming article.

I'll possibly post a bit more to the KENNEN thread after the article appears.

Offline Jim

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #401 on: 04/08/2024 01:18 am »
I don't have specific details on why, but it is easy to guess because improvements in KENNEN would have dramatically increased the amount of data that had to be stored. Anybody who ever dealt with scanning high-quality film slides or negatives knows that they can be big files, many megabytes or even tens of megabytes, and 30-50 years ago, storing even a few megabytes at a time was a major computing challenge, let alone manipulating them. In contrast, it was easy to simply duplicate a film negative and enlarge it.


Wasn't the earlier images printed out because there was no easy way to digitally store them.  It was one of the original segment contracts, Processing Facility.

Online Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #402 on: 04/08/2024 01:22 am »

Wasn't the earlier images printed out because there was no easy way to digitally store them.  It was one of the original segment contracts, Processing Facility.

Yes, they were printed on film "chips" that I think were about 5 by 6 inches. I don't know if this was because there was no way to store them, or if it was to make it easier to distribute and interpret them. The data may still have been stored electronically, but printing on film may have been the easiest way to make multiple copies quickly.

Offline LittleBird

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #403 on: 04/08/2024 02:12 am »

Wasn't the earlier images printed out because there was no easy way to digitally store them.  It was one of the original segment contracts, Processing Facility.

Yes, they were printed on film "chips" that I think were about 5 by 6 inches. I don't know if this was because there was no way to store them, or if it was to make it easier to distribute and interpret them. The data may still have been stored electronically, but printing on film may have been the easiest way to make multiple copies quickly.


I seem to remember Blackstar that you wrote a piece for Countdown in the 90s that had a drawing comparing different image sizes in terms of pixels that included KH11 ?

Do you still have a copy? Might help estimate file sizes etc

Offline ExGeek

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #404 on: 04/08/2024 02:44 am »

Wasn't the earlier images printed out because there was no easy way to digitally store them.  It was one of the original segment contracts, Processing Facility.

Yes, they were printed on film "chips" that I think were about 5 by 6 inches. I don't know if this was because there was no way to store them, or if it was to make it easier to distribute and interpret them. The data may still have been stored electronically, but printing on film may have been the easiest way to make multiple copies quickly.

The early KENNEN system requirements called for an "online" and "offline" processing capability on the ground.  The P/F had to be able to receive the encoded sensor information (not images) via the R/F (from the relay satellite), capture, decode, calibrate and process the sensor data to form images that were then written to film.  All of the equipment needed to do this had to be prepped and ready to go in real-time and had to be done at real-time rates as the data was acquired by the imaging vehicle.  Once the image was on film, it could be further processed/duplicated as needed, at a more leisurely pace.  This was the normal mode of operation. 

The offline mode was intended to be used for different image processing enhancements or capabilities for various  exploitation needs.

The original fielded system worked in pretty much this manner.

A declassified old set of program requirements can be found here:

https://www.nro.gov/Portals/135/documents/foia/declass/MAJOR%20NRO%20PROGRAMS%20&%20PROJECTS/CIA%20EOE/SC-2017-00012_C05104528.pdf

Online Targeteer

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« Last Edit: 04/08/2024 02:51 am by Targeteer »
Best quote heard during an inspection, "I was unaware that I was the only one who was aware."

Online Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #406 on: 04/08/2024 02:52 am »

I seem to remember Blackstar that you wrote a piece for Countdown in the 90s that had a drawing comparing different image sizes in terms of pixels that included KH11 ?

Do you still have a copy? Might help estimate file sizes etc

Not film sizes but swath widths. I'd have to go look that up and that will take awhile and I'm too lazy and...

Never mind, found it:


Offline ExGeek

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #407 on: 04/08/2024 02:58 am »

Wasn't the earlier images printed out because there was no easy way to digitally store them.  It was one of the original segment contracts, Processing Facility.

Yes, they were printed on film "chips" that I think were about 5 by 6 inches. I don't know if this was because there was no way to store them, or if it was to make it easier to distribute and interpret them. The data may still have been stored electronically, but printing on film may have been the easiest way to make multiple copies quickly.


I seem to remember Blackstar that you wrote a piece for Countdown in the 90s that had a drawing comparing different image sizes in terms of pixels that included KH11 ?

Do you still have a copy? Might help estimate file sizes etc

Anything you see in the open literature will more than likely be inaccurate.  Data rates, sensor characteristics and capabilities which all figure into resultant file sizes of processed images are still classified to this day (or at least the day I retired).

Offline LittleBird

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #408 on: 04/08/2024 02:58 pm »

Wasn't the earlier images printed out because there was no easy way to digitally store them.  It was one of the original segment contracts, Processing Facility.

Yes, they were printed on film "chips" that I think were about 5 by 6 inches. I don't know if this was because there was no way to store them, or if it was to make it easier to distribute and interpret them. The data may still have been stored electronically, but printing on film may have been the easiest way to make multiple copies quickly.


I seem to remember Blackstar that you wrote a piece for Countdown in the 90s that had a drawing comparing different image sizes in terms of pixels that included KH11 ?

Do you still have a copy? Might help estimate file sizes etc

Anything you see in the open literature will more than likely be inaccurate.  Data rates, sensor characteristics and capabilities which all figure into resultant file sizes of processed images are still classified to this day (or at least the day I retired).

True, I’m sure. However the interest, then and now (thanks Blackstar) is its provenance as a redacted but official slide.

I’m sure the “laws of engineering” are constantly changing, but to my knowledge the laws of physics haven’t so if any of those  swath widths actually did correspond to a version of KENNEN the slide does contain some relevant info, and improves greatly on the kinds of speculation one remembers from Burrows or SIPRI for example.

Offline ExGeek

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #409 on: 04/08/2024 03:13 pm »

Wasn't the earlier images printed out because there was no easy way to digitally store them.  It was one of the original segment contracts, Processing Facility.

Yes, they were printed on film "chips" that I think were about 5 by 6 inches. I don't know if this was because there was no way to store them, or if it was to make it easier to distribute and interpret them. The data may still have been stored electronically, but printing on film may have been the easiest way to make multiple copies quickly.


I seem to remember Blackstar that you wrote a piece for Countdown in the 90s that had a drawing comparing different image sizes in terms of pixels that included KH11 ?

Do you still have a copy? Might help estimate file sizes etc

Anything you see in the open literature will more than likely be inaccurate.  Data rates, sensor characteristics and capabilities which all figure into resultant file sizes of processed images are still classified to this day (or at least the day I retired).

True, I’m sure. However the interest, then and now (thanks Blackstar) is its provenance as a redacted but official slide.

I’m sure the “laws of engineering” are constantly changing, but to my knowledge the laws of physics haven’t so if any of those  swath widths actually did correspond to a version of KENNEN the slide does contain some relevant info, and improves greatly on the kinds of speculation one remembers from Burrows or SIPRI for example.

Probably should be moved to the other thread, but to see what was state of the art in the early 70s for high bandwidth recording, you could look at this declassified document on engineering model developments, where the proposed design was for a tape recorder operating with 8 channels, and each channel at a rate of 40 Mbps.

https://www.nro.gov/Portals/135/documents/foia/declass/MAJOR%20NRO%20PROGRAMS%20&%20PROJECTS/CIA%20EOE/SC-2017-00012_C05104533.pdf

Online Blackstar

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Re: The KH-7 and KH-8 GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites
« Reply #410 on: 04/08/2024 10:30 pm »
https://thespacereview.com/article/4773/1

 
GAMBIT vs KENNEN: The persistence of film reconnaissance in the digital age
by Dwayne A. Day
Monday, April 8, 2024

One of the mysteries of the American reconnaissance satellite program during the Cold War was why, after the KENNEN digital near-real-time reconnaissance satellite entered service in late 1976, the United States continued to operate film-return reconnaissance satellites well into the 1980s. The last GAMBIT high-resolution reconnaissance satellite flew in 1984 and the last successful HEXAGON area-surveillance satellite also flew that year, although the final mission, launched in April 1986, ended in failure. What led officials at the National Reconnaissance Office, which developed and operated the satellites, to keep them in service even after a revolutionary new system had been developed?
The new information now sheds light on why, even after KENNEN entered service, the United States continued operating film-based reconnaissance satellites into the first half of the 1980s.

Part of the explanation has been known for some time. In January 1993, the House Armed Services Committee produced a report about intelligence successes and failures in the recently completed Operations Desert Shield/Storm.[1] In the report, one unnamed military commander bemoaned the lack of a retired, but then still-classified satellite system that could have provided wide-area coverage of the battlefield. That system was the HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite, which could have imaged nearly all of Iraq in a single orbital pass over the country. The report further stated, “The absence of wide-area coverage has been compared to ‘searching New York City by looking through a soda straw.’” The fact that military leaders were still feeling the absence of HEXAGON, which had last flown seven years earlier, indicated that its ability to photograph massive amounts of territory very quickly had not yet been equaled by the KENNEN and its descendants.

But even as KENNEN was in development, there was a discussion within the United States intelligence community about the capability of KENNEN compared to GAMBIT for producing higher resolution photographs. Last month, the National Reconnaissance Office, which developed and operated all three satellite systems, declassified a document concerning this discussion. Although the exact capabilities of KENNEN and a few other details remain classified, the new information now sheds light on why, even after KENNEN entered service, the United States continued operating film-based reconnaissance satellites into the first half of the 1980s.
U-2 briefing

Online Targeteer

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Best quote heard during an inspection, "I was unaware that I was the only one who was aware."

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