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Are NASA's New Telescopes NRO Future Imagery Architecture Leftovers?

By Keith Cowing
June 5, 2012
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Spy agency gives NASA two spare Hubbles, Washington Post
“I’m told by a government engineer with knowledge of the new instruments that they’re “a successful part of an otherwise failed program on the NRO side.”
NASA has a mission for grounded spy telescopes, SpaceflightNow
“But the 94-inch aperture on the NRO optical system will permit Hubble-class resolution over a wide field-of-view – imaging a swath of the sky 100 times larger than Hubble can see in a single exposure.”
U.S. Launches Costly Overhaul of Spy Satellites, LA Times (1995)
“It’s like looking at the world through a soda straw,” said one defense industry consultant of the existing spy satellites. The 8X program would redress that shortcoming by covering roughly 800 to 1,000 square miles in each photograph, with roughly the same resolution as the existing satellites…”
In Death of Spy Satellite Program, Lofty Plans and Unrealistic Bids, NY Times (2007)
“The panel reported that the project, called Future Imagery Architecture, was far behind schedule and would most likely cost $2 billion to $3 billion more than planned, according to records from the satellite agency, the National Reconnaissance Office. … It took two more years, several more review panels and billions more dollars before the government finally killed the project — perhaps the most spectacular and expensive failure in the 50-year history of American spy satellite projects. The story behind that failure has remained largely hidden, like much of the workings of the nation’s intelligence establishment. … The team also wanted an optical system that could take wide-angle images, showing large areas on the ground, as well as tightly focused, detailed pictures of small objects. The goal, to use an oversimplified analogy, was a revolutionary zoom lens. “
8 June Update
Donated Space Telescopes are Remnants of Failed NRO Program, Space News
“Among Boeing’s subcontractors on the canceled program was a division of Eastman Kodak of Rochester, which for years had built the mirror assemblies for the nation’s spy satellites. That division was sold to ITT Exelis in 2004. In an email, ITT Exelis spokeswoman Irene Lockwood confirmed that her company built the hardware. “Since developing and building the two partial telescope assemblies in the late 1990s-early 2000s, ITT Exelis has stored the hardware in one of our Rochester facilities. As the future space missions for the telescopes evolve, ITT Exelis will work with NASA to determine how best they can be used.”

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