In a little-noticed move last summer, European aerospace giant Airbus reorganized its U.S. space and defense operations to bid for classified intelligence work. Published reports indicate an early target of its business strategy will be providing commercial satellite imagery to the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
NRO is the defense department agency responsible for designing, building, launching and operating spy satellites. That includes satellites developed to collect imagery and geospatial intelligence.
In the past, NRO generated all such overhead intelligence for its federal customers from secret, government-owned systems, but as commercial sources of remote sensing data have proliferated, the agency has moved to tap those sources.
The spy agency is now poised to seek one or more suppliers of commercial imagery, and Airbus wants to be part of that effort. The company certainly has relevant credentials: it is the world’s top exporter of Earth observation systems, offering both electro-optical satellites and synthetic aperture radar satellites that can see through clouds.
However, details about what kind of imagery NRO is seeking, how it is being used, and so on are sensitive. For instance, if the spy agency issues a call for geospatial intelligence covering specific regions of Russia or China, those countries would very much like to know about it. (end of excerpt)
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