NRO to increase investments in commercial space technology

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Small satellites and responsive launch are areas of particular interest to the NRO.

WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office is keeping an eye on the commercial space industry and is looking for opportunities to use private sector-funded technologies to support intelligence and defense agencies, a senior official said.

“We’re tracking what’s going on in the commercial realm and we’re thinking about how we can adapt, both processes and technology, to take better advantage of that,” Intelligence Community Space Executive John Paul Parker said on a June 17 podcast hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Parker, a former adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, oversees a new office created to increase collaboration and innovation in the intelligence space enterprise.

The NRO, which develops the nation’s spy satellites, supports both the intelligence community and the Defense Department. One of the priorities is to figure out new ways to collaborate with the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command, said Parker. “That’s going to be a big push for us going forward.

Commercially developed small satellites are one area of particular interest, said Parker. The NRO is looking at using small satellites to take advantage of the growing availability of smaller launch vehicles that can provide a faster response.

“We invested in last year very heavily in examining how small satellite related technologies can be helpful to the intelligence community mission,” Parker said.

“We’re actually looking at setting up a an Intelligence Community Commercial Space Council to bring the subject matter experts of the community together to look at some of these emergent issues,” Parker said. “There’s some really exciting developments taking place in commercial space that we’re just starting to get our heads around.”

One of the commercial space companies that has seen growing business from the NRO is small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab.

The company on June 18 announced a new agreement with the NRO for two back-to-back small satellite missions to demonstrate fast-turnaround launches just days or weeks apart. The missions were awarded through the NRO’s Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket contract. The two missions are scheduled for launch in late spring 2021.