Space: August 7, 2003


The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is gradually being replaced by commercial spy satellites. The NRO has suffered from increasing management problems since the end of the Cold War. Because just about everything the NRO does is top secret, it's been difficult to spotlight the problems, and fix them. The NRO budget is currently $7 billion a year, and when you spread that purchasing power around, you gain lots of grateful allies in Congress. But the NROs customers in the Department of Defense have become increasingly unhappy with NROs work. The U.S. has six or seven photo satellites and about ten working electronic reconnaissance (eavesdropping) satellites that are controlled and maintained by NRO. But NRO hasn't launched any new satellites since 2001, and in that year, the two new spy satellites that were launched, ran into software and mechanical problems that have limited their effectiveness. Other launches are being held up as efforts are made to find and fix the problems that plagued the two defective spy satellites. Meanwhile, commercial photo reconnaissance satellites are becoming effective, to the point where the Department of Defense is buying a lot of the imagery they need from the commercial providers. There are no signs that NRO is cleaning up its act. 


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