Boeing Plan Flopped, New Satellites Could Be Commercial
program is being explored by the US to develop the next generation
of spy satellites since the Future Imagery Architecture system was
cancelled two years ago, according to the Associated Press.
The next system, called BASIC, is planned to be launched by 2011
and initial costs are estimated to start at $2 billion to $4
billion, according to US officials who discussed details on
condition of anonymity, because the information is classified.
Photo reconnaissance satellites are used to gather visual data
from miles above the earth looking at adversarial governments and
terror groups, such as construction at suspected nuclear sites or
militant training camps. These satellites could also have dual
rolls to survey damage from natural disasters. The new system has
been proposed in the void left by other costly attempts.
Six years and billions of dollars were spent by the National
Reconnaissance Office on Future Imagery Architecture, or FIA,
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
overran its budget by nearly $3 billion before the Pentagon ordered it stopped, as
reported by ANN.
"They grossly underestimated the cost of the program," as well
as the technological feasibility of FIA," said John Pike, a space
expert who heads GlobalSecurity.org. FIA "was a hallucination," he
said. In the meantime, the Pentagon has issued a "request for
information" on technology issued this fall. Comments were due
weeks ago, a solicitation for proposals expected in the spring.
A range of options for the new system are being considered, but
the new program will be far less ambitious than previously planned
satellites. An entirely new photo imagery satellite is one option,
or a new type of commercial imagery satellite, buying an existing
commercial satellite or leasing satellite capacity on existing
satellites are options available today. Currently commercial
satellites can make out the outline of a 24-inch long object from
space. In spring of 2008 a satellite will be launched with the
ability to see a 16-inch object. In three yeas that capability is
expected to narrow to nearly 10 inches.
According to industry officials, the commercial aspects looks
most feasible due to time constraints. A contract for $1 billion
with the US military for two commercial satellite companies to buy
space imagery is eminent. Costs are covered with two $500 million
contracts that pay for a satellite, its launch, insurance and
roughly $200 million in photo imagery.
"We would look forward
to reviewing any new government acquisition request since we give
the government more eyes in the sky and high quality imagery at a
fraction of the cost," said Mark Brender, vice president for
communications at GEOEYE, an imagery company under contract with
The Boeing satellite using FIA was going to offer both
wide-angle and telephoto imagery options. Now, those images will
have to be provided by two separate satellites.
The Pentagon hired
Lockheed Martin to piece together a spacecraft from spare parts
from the current generation of secret electro-optical
reconnaissance satellites to cover any gaps in coverage. The
nation's classified network of satellites represents some of the
most expensive government programs and receives almost no public
oversight. Because of their multibillion-dollar price tags,
sensitive missions and lengthy development schedules, spy agencies
go to great pains to keep details from becoming public.
Due to the classified nature of the costly satellite network,
there is no oversight. U.S. spy agencies go to great lengths to
keep these projects silent. Costing the Defense Department $20
billion annually, these programs have triggered criticism from both
the House and Senate intelligence committees over growth costs of
50 percent of more annually.