SPACE SYMPOSIUM NEWS: NRO to Quadruple Satellites on Orbit Over Next Decade
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — The National Reconnaissance Office is planning to rapidly expand and proliferate its architecture of surveillance and reconnaissance satellites over the next 10 years, the agency’s director said Apr. 18.
The agency is “building the largest and most capable, diverse and resilient overhead constellation in our history,” NRO director Dr. Chris Scolese said during a keynote address at the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium. “Within the next decade, we expect to quadruple the number of satellites we currently have on orbit.”
The NRO’s proliferated architecture will be made up of satellites in multiple orbits that are both large and small, as well as a mix of both government and commercial systems, to “deliver an order of magnitude more signals and images as we're getting now,” he said.
The NRO conducted five mission launches in 2022, and has more planned for this year. In partnership with the Space Force, the agency will launch space situational awareness systems as part of the Silent Barker program this summer, he said. The NRO and Space Force are also “working hand in hand to shape the future of Ground Moving Target Indicators, which will provide day/night, all-weather detection and tracking of ground and maritime targets for the warfighter,” he said.
In terms of increasing capability, the office is integrating automation and machine learning “into everything we do,” he said. “We're making major investments that enable us to deliver critical information to the policymakers, the intelligence analysts, the warfighters and other users who need this information.”
In 2021, the agency introduced a new acquisition program called the Broad Agency Announcement Framework for Strategic Commercial Enhancements, through which the NRO could “release independent focus areas multiple times per year,” according to an NRO release. This “flexible acquisition approach … allows us to evaluate and integrate new and emerging space-based technologies as they become available commercially,” Scolese said.
Previous focus areas for the program included commercial radar, radio frequency remote sensing and hyperspectral imagery. Scolese announced the fourth focus area for the program would be commercial electro-optical capabilities.
“The commercial [electro-optical] market continues to expand with new capabilities and new providers, and we want to be able to assess and use these capabilities to support our mission,” he said. The NRO plans to release a request for proposals this fall, with the competition open to U.S.-based companies and foreign-owned companies with subsidiaries in the United States, he added.
Along with proliferating satellites in space, the agency is evolving its ground systems “to meet missions’ needs,” he said. “We're continuing to invest in tools that greatly enhance analysts' ability to use and interpret selected information, and we're delivering significant new ground capabilities that will take better advantage of the collection platforms we put in orbit.”
Instead of innovating in response to crises around the globe, the NRO is “innovating to stay ahead of world events,” he said. “What was the vision for our agency just a few years ago is in view.
“The future is now. I'm confident that the NRO, our people and our partners are all committed not to just keep pace, but to accelerate our advantage in space," he said. "The safety and security of the world and our nation are counting on us.”