WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin in July selected Goodrich ISR Systems to build the main optical telescopes for a new generation of U.S. spy satellites in a move that unseats longtime incumbent supplier ITT Geospatial Systems, according to industry sources.
Sunnyvale, Calif.-basedis the designated prime contractor on the Next Generation Optical system, a pair of highly capable imaging satellites being developed for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The classified program is in the design phase, with a prime contract award on the multibillion-dollar program anticipated in 2012.
The Next Generation Optical satellites will replace the NRO’s current optical spy satellites, which were built by Lockheed Martin and feature telescopes built by a division of Eastman Kodak Co. that was sold to ITT in 2004. Lockheed Martin and the ITT division have a long history or working together on NRO spy satellite programs.
The selection of Danbury, Conn.-based Goodrich ISR over ITT has raised some eyebrows in the industry because of the NRO’s stated desire to minimize risk on the Next Generation Optical system. Plans call for making a sole-source contract award to Lockheed Martin to build satellites that in many ways will resemble those now on orbit.
Like the current satellites, the Next Generation Optical satellites will feature telescopes with an aperture size of 2.4 meters. Although Goodrich ISR Systems has built optical telescopes for the NRO in the past, industry sources said its most recent applicable space experience was the flawed primary lens for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990.
The NRO is under pressure to get the Next Generation Optical system launched on schedule and within budget following the failure of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA), which was intended to serve as the nation’s primary overhead imaging system for years to come. Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., upset incumbent Lockheed Martin for the FIA prime contract in 1999 but soon ran into what proved to be insurmountable technical problems. The optical portion of FIA was canceled in 2005, and Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract to build at least one more satellite based on residual hardware from the previous-generation system.
ITT was on Boeing’s FIA team in an expanded role that was to include not only the optical telescope but the sensor electronics as well, industry sources said. The company was seeking a similar role on the Next Generation Optical system, these sources said.
Sources said Lockheed Martin, which this year held an open competition to build the Next Generation Optical system payload, went with Goodrich ISR Systems for the telescope and stuck with incumbent supplier Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems of Linthicum, Md., for the sensor electronics.
NRO spokesman Rick Oborn would not confirm the selection of Goodrich but said the agency approves of all its program subcontractors.
“All key subcontractors selected by a prime contractor are validated by government oversight, which often includes an independent review,” Oborn said in an Oct. 27 e-mailed response to questions. “We have high confidence that all our acquisition programs will succeed. The NRO is committed to delivering best value to our country’s taxpayers while delivering the world’s best overhead reconnaissance satellites.”
Lockheed Martin spokesman Steve Tatum, Goodrich ISR Systems spokeswoman Julie Mears and ITT Geospatial Systems spokeswoman Irene Lockwood all declined to comment for this story.