New U.S. Spy Satellites Offer North Korea Insight, Official Says
(Bloomberg) -- Two new U.S. spy satellite systems that went from concept to operational in less than three years are providing “insight into areas of North Korea where we’ve struggled to collect in the past,” according to the head of the secretive National Reconnaissance Office.
The systems also have captured imagery of the Afghanistan evacuation and disaster relief in Haiti, Chris Scolese said in prepared remarks for an industry conference on Thursday.
“I can’t give out their names, but I can tell you we launched both of them last year as demos,” Scolese said of the projects. “Both were developed using a combination of commercial components and processes and government-sponsored capabilities. Both went from concept to orbit in less than three years, and both were delivered on schedule and within budget.”
Sharing even that much information “is probably a big surprise” for anyone who knows the famously tight-lipped office, Scolese said.
The new systems involve satellites and ground stations, according to an NRO spokeperson.
NRO builds satellites “whose main purpose is collecting imagery and signals intelligence to support other agencies’ intelligence products and services,” according to a Congressional Research Service description of the 60-year-old agency.
It wasn’t until 1978 that a president even acknowledged that the U.S. carried out reconnaissance from space, and the government didn’t acknowledged the NRO’s existence until 1992, according to an agency history.
One reason for the NRO’s increased transparency is that it’s reaching out more widely to tap the commercial marketplace, setting up an office for that purpose about three years ago that works with commercial imagery providers.
“We’ve already awarded multiple commercial contracts, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” Scolese said. “Those contracts are providing about 100 million square kilometers of commercial imagery every single week.”
“This includes launch services, cloud data services, commercially produced spacecraft, and of course, commercial data services,” he added.
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