What’s striking to me in the AP Story about the Broad Area Surveillance Intelligence Capability (BASIC) satellite system is the amount of detail regarding satellite specifications.
Secret government imagery satellites are believed by experts to have better than six-inch resolution.
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) will buy, launch and operate one or two commercial imagery satellites with 16-inch resolution, probably around 2014.
NRO will design and build another more advanced satellite to be launched in 2018.
Despite the disclaimer that current resolution is “believed to be” better than six-inches, there’s a surprising amount of detail here about NRO’s plans for “spy satellites.” Given the proliferation of high-resolution commercial platforms, I guess it makes sense that most of these details are public.
Gone are the days when these satellites are truly secret. The huge dollar amounts (between $2 and $4 Billion) require ample justification, and the amount of noise generated by these big-budget decisions can no longer be kept hidden. The cold war is over, and there’s little public support for open-ended contracts. The demise of the Future Imagery Architecture project is a testament to this new operating environment.
Satellite remote sensing has now become well understood, and there isn’t much tactical advantage to hiding the existence of these satellites. What’s surprising to me is that there isn’t more public insistence that the imagery from this platform be provided for non-military purposes. Remote sensing satellites are an excellent platform for scientific Earth observation, and it’s a shame that imagery provided to scientists isn’t of greater resolution and frequency. After all, environmental security should be on par with military security in this time of great global change.