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They’re Watching You: NRO to Upgrade USA’s Spy Satellite Array

Written by on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

You always hear about how spy satellites can read the text on a postage stamp. Claims like that one give people a somewhat skewed mental picture of spy satellites. They’re certainly high-powered, but just because they have an impressive zoom that doesn’t mean that America’s spy satellite network is flawless.

Think of our spy satellites like spotlights scanning a prison yard. We need to have the whole area covered, but since our spotlights are so focused we have to specifically pick and choose where to shine our spotlights. These lights do a great job of showing escaped prisoners dashing across the prison yard, but they’re practically useless if a prisoner is able to run through the cover of darkness.

National Reconnaissance Office

Image source: Nro.gov

That’s the problem that the US is experiencing with its current satellite array. Our satellites are incredibly accurate, but they’re only useful if we know where to look. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the agency that deals with secret spy satellites, wants to change all that by upgrading its current spotlight system with all-encompassing floodlight-like satellites that will cover every part of Earth.

The NRO released a document outlining their plans to beef up their satellite system. The document was made public through the Freedom of Information Act, and even though the government was pretty liberal with a thick black marker, we’ve still got a pretty good idea of what they want to do.

NRO Spy Satellite

Image source: Newlaunches.com

Foremost on the to-do list is to send up more satellites, enhance existing satellites, and reposition satellites currently in orbit to create a more comprehensive view of planet buy generic cialis tadalafil Earth. This might actually be the first clue we have regarding the mysterious X-37B’s purpose. We don’t know much about it other than the fact that it’s a reusable launch vehicle, but the NRO’s mention of reusable launch vehicles suggests that the X-37B has been a potential NRO toy all along.

The other major issue that the NRO needs to work out is data management. Our satellites are strong enough to sweep the landscape and spot areas of interest – the only problem is wading through the sea of digital data to figure out what is valuable information and what is completely useless. That’s going to require new data processing centers here on Terra Firma that can handle the constant stream of information.

NRO Spy Satellite Launch

Image source: Wired.com

But being able to communicate with computers on the ground isn’t going to be enough. Quite possibly the most ambitious item on the NRO’s plate is to coordinate America’s satellites so that they can work together towards a common goal. They hope to link the satellites together – kind of like how the Internet links multiple computers together. Theroetically, a network like that should take some of the burden off of human operators by giving satellites the digital brainpower to figure out where they want to scan.

And to think: people are getting nervous about domestic drone surveillance. Spy drones in US airspace are small potatoes compared to what the NRO has in mind. Once this new array is up and running, there will be no place that you can hide from these all-seeing satellites.

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