National Reconnaissance Office Director Discusses Aggressive Satellite Launch Mission

Bruce Carlson, the director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), was a most entertaining speaker on stage at the GEOINT conference, especially for someone who is one of the nation’s leading technology spymasters. Displaying a wry sense of humor, Carlson entertained the audience with an adroit understanding of the mission at hand. The history of the NRO is that it is an agency that was only declassified in 1992 and was moved to a location in Chantilly, Virginia. And if you’ve ever driven by their facility, it still screams, “go away!”

Charged with launching the nation’s spy satellites, the NRO is now on the most aggressive launch campaign in 20 years according to Carlson. But he also cautioned that it’s a different business than it was back then. There are fewer people and less infrastructure to support the NRO’s mission. But Carlson was on a mission to produce a new generation of launch vehicles.  His priorities were very succinct: execute launches on time and budget; improve the business of launch; improve research and technology investment; and invest in the NRO workforce.

Carlson says that he has increased the size of the science and technology portion of his budget within his budget even though his budget has shrunk. He sees as one of his main goals as guaranteeing a process of mission assurance. He wants to increase the number of missions by simplifying some of the processes although there are certain lower limits that they cannot go under.

Carlson said that his requests for imagery to the NRO always overtax the resources he can provide. Some users will get commercial imagery because NRO cannot always satisfy all the requests. NRO does not see the commercial space initiative as a competitor to the NRO’s mission.

Carlson’s goal over the next six months is to demonstrate competency to carry out this aggressive mission in launching a new generation of satellites an modernizing the geriatric constellation now in existence. "We are concerned about our susceptibility to attack," said Carlson who essentially operates the fourth largest communications company in the US.

See the video of his entire remarks.

[Disclosure: The USGIF supported a portion of travel costs to the conference this year.]

Published Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Written by Joe Francica

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