About U.S. Plans New Multibillion-Dollar Spy Satellite System, Officials Say
|December 1st, 2007||#1|
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U.S. Plans New Multibillion-Dollar Spy Satellite System, Officials Say info
December 1, 2007 By Associated Press
WASHINGTON – The United States is pursuing a multibillion-dollar program to develop the next generation of spy satellites, the first major effort of its kind since the Pentagon canceled the ambitious and costly Future Imagery Architecture system two years ago, The Associated Press has learned.
The new system, known as BASIC, would be launched by 2011 and is expected to cost $2 billion to $4 billion, according to U.S. officials familiar with the program. They discussed details on condition of anonymity because the information is classified.
Photo reconnaissance satellites are used to gather visual information from space about adversarial governments and terror groups, such as construction at suspected nuclear sites or militant training camps. Satellites also can be used to survey damage from hurricanes, fires and other natural disasters.
The new start comes as many U.S. officials, lawmakers and defense experts question the high costs of satellite programs, particularly after the demise of the previous program that wasted time and money.
The National Reconnaissance Office spent six years and billions of dollars on Future Imagery Architecture before deciding in September 2005 to scrap a major component of the program. Boeing, the primary contractor, had run into technical problems in the development of the electro-optical satellite and blew its budget by as much as $3 billion before the Pentagon pulled the plug, according to industry experts and government reports.
“They grossly underestimated the cost of the program,” as well as the technological feasibility of it, said John Pike, a space expert who heads GlobalSecurity.org. Future Imagery Architecture “was a hallucination,” he said.
The Defense Department is in the initial stages of preparing the new program for bidders. The Pentagon's classified “request for information” on the technology was issued this fall to industry. Comments were due two weeks ago. A solicitation for proposals is expected next spring.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is conducting a study to determine what satellite capabilities are feasible. The analysis will be completed by the end of the year.
Officials said the Pentagon is considering a range of options, but the new program is expected to be significantly less ambitious than the one it is meant to replace. Options include developing a new photo imagery satellite or a derivative of a commercial imagery satellite, buying a commercial satellite or leasing existing satellite capacity.
A U.S. commercial satellite launched in September by DigitalGlobe can make out the outline of 20-inch object from space. In April, a satellite will be launched with the ability to see a 16-inch object. By 2011, that capability is expected to narrow to nearly 10 inches.
Industry officials said the contract probably will be for a commercial or commercially derived spacecraft because of the time and budget constraints and the government's apparent desire to maintain control of the satellite.
The U.S. military has $1 billion in contracts with two commercial satellite companies to buy space imagery. Each $500 million contract pays for a satellite, its launch and insurance and roughly $200 million in photo imagery.
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