Sunday, September 18, 2011

NRO's Newly Declassified GAMBIT and HEXAGON Programs


Twenty-five years after their top-secret, Cold War-era missions ended, two clandestine American satellite programs were declassified Saturday, with the agency unveiling three of the United States' most closely guarded assets: the KH-7 GAMBIT, the KH-8 GAMBIT 3 and the KH-9 HEXAGON spy satellites.

The vintage National Reconnaissance Office ( satellites were displayed to the public Saturday in a one-day-only exhibit here at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, VA. The three spacecraft are the centerpiece of the NRO's invitation-only 50th Anniversary Gala celebration held at the center later that evening.



NRO: Declassified GAMBIT and HEXAGON Videos

NRO: HEXAGON (KH-9) Fact Sheet


After a late night on Friday and mid-morning breakfast with friends, I quickly made it over to Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, Va at about 2:30pm. Luckily, the tent containing the KH-9 HEXAGON was still open and accessible in the parking lot.

The "HEXAGON - Sentinel of Liberty" video (link above) was playing in one corner of the tent on a big LCD TV. People seemed to get a kick out of the redacted photos and at least one cut which had redacted sound - most likely protecting the still classified program name of a re-entry vehicle. A good overview of the KH-9 HEXAGON satellite (and the various contractors used) is shown starting at 19:35 and the redacted program name (re-entry vehicle) is at 22:50. The HEXAGON's mapping camera is discussed at 30:30, where William P. Durbin states that the camera produced "coverage of high-mapping quality" of ~98% of the Eurasian land mass, 75% to 80% of Africa, and large southern portions of South America during the lifetime of the system.

Since I was rushing, I did not have time to run home and grab my nice camera, so I had to use my phone....

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