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Top Secret NRO Cold War Spy Satellites Finally Revealed

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Top Secret NRO Cold War Spy Satellites Finally Revealed

On Sept. 17, 2011, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, VA provided its firsts glimpse of several top secret satellites from the Cold War.

Three of the United States National Reconnaissance Office most closely guarded secret satellites, the KH-7 GAMBIT, the KH-8 GAMBIT 3 and the KH-9 HEXAGON, was unveiled in a one day only exhibit.

However, this exhibition was not open to the general public. It was part of the NRO’s invitation-only, 50th Anniversary Gala celebration.

According to American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the annual event was held “to recognize and celebrate the collective contributions that the NRO’s people and innovative technologies have made to our nation’s security in supporting policy decisions, intelligence activities, and military operations around the world.”

And showcase they did.

The three spy satellites were the centerpiece of the celebration, and for good reason.

Each satellite played an intricate role during the Cold War. These satellites were responsible for photographing high resolution photographs of the Soviet Union’s submarine bases, missile silos, and other looming threats.


The GAMBIT series satellites carried a “77-inch focal length camera for providing specific information on scientific and technical capabilities that threatened the nation.”

According to NRO documents, the GAMBIT 1 series satellite has a resolution of about 2 to 3 feet, but the GAMBIT 3 system had an improved resolution of better than 2 feet. After the GAMBIT series satellites, the NRO launched the Hexagon.

The KH-9 Hexagon was able to photograph nearly 400 nautical miles with every pass. The satellite is responsible for photographing high resolution photographs of the Soviet Union’s submarine bases and missile silos.

These satellites were instrumental to American safety throughout the Cold War. So much so that NASA’s Rob Landis stated, “Frankly, I think that GAMBIT and HEXAGON helped prevent World War III.”

Image Credits: Wikipedia,

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