The GEOINT 2016 Symposium May 15-18 in Orlando, Florida, featured the usual heavy hitters, including the directors of the National Reconnaissance Office and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

SpaceNews brings you this special coverage of GEOINT 2016 with support from Raytheon.

Wednesday’s Top Stories

NRO discloses previously unannounced launch contract for SpaceX

Mike Gruss – SpaceX is scheduled to launch a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office in March 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, a spokeswoman for the intelligence agency said May 18 .

SpaceX has not announced the launch. The NRO, which builds and operates the nation’s spy satellites, is thought to have previously discussed the contract – even broadly – in a public setting just once, during a House subcommittee hearing three years ago. — Read the full story

Betty Sapp

NRO planning shift to smaller satellites, new ground system

Mike Gruss – The director of the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates the country’s spy satellites, said May 18 that the intelligence agency, known for its gigantic satellites, intends to increase its use of cubesats in the near future.

While the NRO is often associated with some of the space industry’s heaviest and largest satellites, Sapp said the NRO is also launching cubesats, and not just as experiments or technical demonstrations. — Read the full story

DigitalGlobe: No clarity on 2013 request to NOAA to sell high-res imagery 

Happy Camp, Calif. after the SWIR imagery. Credit: DigitalGlobe.

Mike Gruss – DigitalGlobe leaders say they are still waiting on approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to sell higher-resolution infrared imagery data from their Worldview-3 satellite nearly three years after they first submitted a license request.

Walter Scott, chief technical officer and executive vice president of DigitalGlobe, mentioned the delay during a panel discussion here at the GEOINT 2016 conference May 17. — Read the full story

Tuesday’s Top Stories

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, urged the government to use caution before relying too heavily on new commercial satellite imagery companies.
James Clapper

Clapper: New imagery companies could complement, but not replace what intel agencies need

Mike Gruss – U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the intelligence community has likely not taken full advantage of products from a flurry of new commercial satellite imagery companies.

During a question-and-session here May 17, Clapper said the government needs a “complementary partnership” between the intelligence community and satellite imagery companies. The National Reconnaissance Office should focus on “government-only functions,” he said, and the intelligence community should “use what’s available commercially as a supplement.” — Read the full story

"It's five words: what else can we see?" — U.S. Air Force Col. John Wagner
“It’s five words: what else can we see?” — U.S. Air Force Col. John Wagner

Unlocking the SBIRS Data Revolution


This story originally appeared in SpaceNews Magazine and is available now online at the magazine’s new membership website for free.

After 27 months on orbit, a missile-warning sensor hosted on a commercial satellite was shutdown in 2014 amid Air Force concerns about sequestration-driven budget cuts.

Last year, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) urged the Air Force to reactivate the sensor on the grounds that the infrared data could help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration produce more accurate and timely forecasts.

Bridenstine’s request was denied, but his prodding dovetailed with questions from other lawmakers asking what else the Air Force could do with its powerful and expensive missile- warning satellites besides detect missile launches.

The Pentagon is about to find out. — Read the full story

Monday’s Top Stories

Robert Cardillo, the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said the agency is opening a new office in Silicon Valley.
Robert Cardillo

Following DoD, NGA to open new innovation center in Silicon Valley

Mike Gruss – The head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency said it will open a new center in Silicon Valley to work more directly with startup companies, including several small satellite and imagery companies that have made California home.

“We plan to advance our profession by going to the geographic heart of American innovation: Silicon Valley,” Robert Cardillo, the director of the NGA, said in prepared remarks. — Read the full story

Marcel Lettre
Marcel Lettre

Lettre: As DoD stresses resiliency, commercial may find new business

Mike Gruss – The Defense Department and intelligence community will have to weigh increased capabilities versus the ability for future satellites to withstand attacks from China and Russia, a senior Pentagon leader said May 16.

Marcel Lettre, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, said during a keynote speech here that as the Defense Department and the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates the country’s spy satellites, review requirements for future architectures, “we might have to trade off some collection performance for improved resiliency.” — Read the full story




This story originally appeared in SpaceNews Magazine and is available online now at the magazine’s new membership website for free
Mike Gruss — The NGA’s new imagery-buying initiative could benefit federal agencies far outside the intelligence community

Each year, federal officials ask the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency for nearly twice as many satellite images, maps, charts and other data products than the 16,000-person combat support and intelligence agency can provide.

Today, most of NGA’s imagery comes from commercial satellite imagery pioneer DigitalGlobe and an undisclosed number of spy satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. Read the full story

Boeing XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane artist concept
Boeing XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane artist concept

Why DARPA is pursuing a reusable spaceplane

Mike Gruss – Here’s a phrase that’s not repeated everyday in the space community:

“You’ve heard Elon’s comments … we want to go beyond that,” Brad Tousley, the head of the tactical technology office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said May 15.

Elon, of course, is Elon Musk, the optimistic, and some say visionary, founder of SpaceX with plans of eventually colonizing Mars. After landing three first-stage rockets, Musk has said SpaceX would inspect the rockets with plans to later re-fly most of them.

Tousley oversees DARPA’s space programs, which often handles the Defense Department’s most difficult development challenges. He described the landing of first stage rockets by SpaceX and Blue Origin as “very, very impressive accomplishments.” — Read the full story