National Reconnaissance Office

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is a member of the United States Intelligence Community and an agency of the United States Department of Defense. NRO is considered, along with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), to be one of the "big five" U.S. intelligence agencies.[2] The NRO is headquartered in unincorporated Fairfax County, Virginia,[3] 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Washington Dulles International Airport.

It designs, builds, and operates the reconnaissance satellites of the U.S. federal government, and provides satellite intelligence to several government agencies, particularly signals intelligence (SIGINT) to the NSA, imagery intelligence (IMINT) to the NGA, and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) to the DIA.[4]

The Director of the NRO reports to both the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense[5] and serves in an additional capacity as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Intelligence Space Technology). The NRO's federal workforce consists primarily of Air Force, CIA, NGA, NSA, and Navy personnel.[6] A 1996 bipartisan commission report described the NRO as having by far the largest budget of any intelligence agency, and "virtually no federal workforce", accomplishing most of its work through "tens of thousands" of defense contractor personnel.[7]

National Reconnaissance Office
National Reconnaissance Office, 2013

NRO headquarters at night
Agency overview
FormedEstablished: September 6, 1961
Declassified: September 18, 1992
JurisdictionUnited States
HeadquartersChantilly, Virginia, U.S.
MottoSupra Et Ultra
(Above And Beyond)
Annual budgetClassified
Agency executives
  • Betty J. Sapp[1], Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (DNRO)
  • Susan S. Gibson, Inspector General
  • Frank Calvelli, Principal Deputy Director of the NRO (PDDNRO)
  • Maj. General Stephen T. Denker, Deputy Director of the NRO (DDNRO)
Parent agencyDepartment of Defense


The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) develops and operates space reconnaissance systems and conducts intelligence-related activities for U.S. national security.[8]

It also coordinates collection and analysis of information from airplane and satellite reconnaissance by the military services and the Central Intelligence Agency.[9] It is funded through the National Reconnaissance Program, which is part of the National Intelligence Program (formerly known as the National Foreign Intelligence Program). The agency is part of the Department of Defense.

The NRO works closely with its intelligence and space partners, which include the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the United States Strategic Command, Naval Research Laboratory and other agencies and organizations.

It has been proposed that the NRO share imagery of the United States itself with the National Applications Office for domestic law enforcement.[10] The NRO operates ground stations around the world that collect and distribute intelligence gathered from reconnaissance satellites.

According to Asia Times Online, one important mission of NRO satellites is the tracking of non-US submarines on patrol or on training missions in the world's oceans and seas.[11]


Close-up of Atlas 501 payload fairing with NROL-41 satellite (poster commemorating 50 years of NRO).
Serum and Vaccine Institute in Al-A'amiriya, Iraq, as imaged by a US reconnaissance satellite in November 2002.
SyrianTanks US SatelliteImagery
US Satellite imagery of Syrian tanks departing Da'el in Daraa province after several days of assaults against the town in April 2012.

The NRO was established on August 25, 1960, after management problems and insufficient progress with the USAF satellite reconnaissance program (see SAMOS and MIDAS).[12]:23[13] The formation was based on a 25 August 1960 recommendation to President Dwight D. Eisenhower during a special National Security Council meeting, and the agency was to coordinate the USAF and CIA's (and later the navy and NSA's) reconnaissance activities.[12]:46

The NRO's first photo reconnaissance satellite program was the Corona program,[14]:25–28 the existence of which was declassified February 24, 1995, and which existed from August 1960 to May 1972 (although the first test flight occurred on February 28, 1959). The Corona system used (sometimes multiple) film capsules dropped by satellites, which were recovered mid-air by military craft. The first successful recovery from space (Discoverer XIII) occurred on August 12, 1960, and the first image from space was seen six days later. The first imaging resolution was 8 meters, which was improved to 2 meters. Individual images covered, on average, an area of about 10 by 120 miles (16 by 193 km). The last Corona mission (the 145th), was launched May 25, 1972, and this mission's last images were taken May 31, 1972. From May 1962 to August 1964, the NRO conducted 12 mapping missions as part of the "Argon" system. Only seven were successful.[14]:25–28 In 1963, the NRO conducted a mapping mission using higher resolution imagery, as part of the "Lanyard" program. The Lanyard program flew one successful mission. NRO missions since 1972 are classified, and portions of many earlier programs remain unavailable to the public.


The first press reports on NRO started in 1971.[15] The first official acknowledgement of NRO was a Senate committee report in October 1973, which inadvertently exposed the existence of the NRO.[16] In 1985, a New York Times article revealed details on the operations of the NRO.[17]

The existence of the NRO was declassified on September 18, 1992, by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, as recommended by the Director of Central Intelligence.[18]

Funding controversy

A Washington Post article in September 1995 reported that the NRO had quietly hoarded between $1 billion and $1.7 billion in unspent funds without informing the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon, or Congress. The CIA was in the midst of an inquiry into the NRO's funding because of complaints that the agency had spent $300 million of hoarded funds from its classified budget to build a new headquarters building in Chantilly, Virginia, a year earlier.

In total, NRO had accumulated US$3.8 billion (inflation adjusted US$ 6.2 billion in 2019) in forward funding. As a consequence, NRO's three distinct accounting systems were merged.[19]

The presence of the classified new headquarters was revealed by the Federation of American Scientists who obtained unclassified copies of the blueprints filed with the building permit application. After 9/11 those blueprints were apparently classified. The reports of an NRO slush fund were true. According to former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith, who led the investigation: "Our inquiry revealed that the NRO had for years accumulated very substantial amounts as a 'rainy day fund.'"[20]

Future Imagery Architecture

In 1999 the NRO embarked on a $25 billion[21] project with Boeing entitled Future Imagery Architecture to create a new generation of imaging satellites. In 2002 the project was far behind schedule and would most likely cost $2 billion to $3 billion more than planned, according to NRO records. The government pressed forward with efforts to complete the project, but after two more years, several more review panels and billions more in expenditures, the project was killed in what the Times report calls "perhaps the most spectacular and expensive failure in the 50-year history of American spy satellite projects."[22]

Mid 2000s to present

In January 2008, the government announced that a reconnaissance satellite operated by the NRO would make an unplanned and uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere in the next several months. Satellite watching hobbyists said that it was likely the USA-193, built by Lockheed Martin Corporation, which failed shortly after achieving orbit in December 2006.[23] On February 14, 2008, the Pentagon announced that rather than allowing the satellite to make an uncontrolled re-entry, it would instead be shot down by a missile fired from a Navy cruiser.[24] The intercept took place on February 21, 2008.[25]

In July 2008, the NRO declassified the existence of its Synthetic Aperture Radar satellites, citing difficulty in discussing the creation of the Space-Based Radar with the United States Air Force and other entities.[26]

In August 2009, FOIA archives were queried for a copy of the NRO video, "Satellite Reconnaissance: Secret Eyes in Space." [27] The 7 minute video chronicles the early days of the NRO and many of its early programs.

At the National Space Symposium in April 2010 NRO director, General Bruce Carlson, USAF (Ret.) announced that till the end of 2011 NRO is embarking on "the most aggressive launch schedule that this organization has undertaken in the last twenty-five years. There are a number of very large and very critical reconnaissance satellites that will go into orbit in the next year to a year and a half."[28]

In 2012, a McClatchy investigation found that the NRO was possibly breaching ethical and legal boundaries by encouraging its polygraph examiners to extract personal and private information from DoD personnel during polygraph tests that were purported to be limited to counterintelligence issues.[29] Allegations of abusive polygraph practices were brought forward by former NRO polygraph examiners.[30] In 2014, an inspector general's report concluded that NRO failed to report felony admissions of child sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities. NRO obtained these criminal admissions during polygraph testing but never forwarded the information to police. NRO's failure to act in the public interest by reporting child sexual predators was first made public in 2012 by former NRO polygraph examiners.[31]


NRO Organizational Chart (Sep. 2010)

The NRO is part of the Department of Defense. The Director of the NRO is appointed by the Secretary of Defense with the consent of the Director of National Intelligence, without confirmation from Congress. Traditionally, the position was given to either the Under Secretary of the Air Force or the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space, but with the appointment of Donald Kerr as Director of the NRO in July 2005 the position is now independent. The Agency is organized as follows:[32]

Principal Deputy Director of the NRO (PDDNRO)

  • Reports to and coordinates with the DNRO on all NRO activities and handles the daily management of the NRO with decision responsibility as delegated by the DNRO; and,
  • In the absence of the Director, acts on behalf of the DNRO.

Deputy Director of the NRO (DDNRO)

  • Senior USAF general officer. Represents those civilian/uniformed USAF personnel assigned to the NRO;
  • Assists both the DNRO and PDDNRO in the daily direction of the NRO; and,
  • Coordinates activities between the USAF and the NRO.

The Corporate Staff

  • Encompasses all those support functions such as legal, diversity, human resources, security/counter-intelligence, procurement, public affairs, etc. necessary for the day-to-day operation of the NRO and in support of the DNRO, PDNRO, and DDNRO.

Office of Space Launch (OSL)

  • Responsible for all aspects of a satellite launch including launch vehicle hardware, launch services integration, mission assurance, operations, transportation, and mission safety; and,
  • OSL is NRO's launch representative with industry, the USAF, and NASA.

Advanced Systems and Technology Directorate (AS&T)

  • Invents and delivers advanced technologies;
  • Develops new sources and methods; and,
  • Enables multi-intelligence solutions.

Deputy Director for Business Plans and Operations (BPO)

  • Responsible for all financial and, budgetary aspects of NRO programs and operations; and,
  • Coordinates all legislative, international, and public affairs communications.

Communications Systems Acquisition Directorate (COMM)

  • Supports the NRO by providing communications services through physical and virtual connectivity; and,
  • Enables the sharing of mission critical information with mission partners and customers.

Ground Enterprise Directorate (GED)

  • Provides an integrated ground system that sends timely information to users worldwide.

Imagery Intelligence Systems Acquisition Directorate (IMINT)

  • Responsible for acquiring NRO's technologically advanced imagery collection systems, which provides geospatial intelligence data to the Intelligence Community and the military.

Management Services and Operations (MS&O)

  • Provides services such as facilities support, transportation and warehousing, logistics, and other business support, which the NRO needs to operate on a daily basis.

Mission Operations Directorate (MOD)

  • Operates, maintains and reports the status of NRO satellites and their associated ground systems;
  • Manages the 24-hour NRO Operations Center (NROC) which, working with U.S Strategic Command, provides defensive space control and space protection, monitors satellite flight safety, and provides space situational awareness.

Mission Support Directorate (MSD)

  • Engages with users of NRO systems to understand their operational and intelligence problems and provide solutions in collaboration with NRO's mission partners.

Signals Intelligence Systems Acquisition Directorate (SIGINT)

  • This directorate builds and deploys NRO's signals intelligence satellite systems that collect communication, electronic, and foreign instrumentation signals intelligence.

Systems Engineering Directorate (SED)

  • Provides beginning-to-end systems engineering for all of NRO's systems.


In 2007, the NRO described itself as "a hybrid organization consisting of some 3,000 personnel and jointly staffed by members of the armed services, the Central Intelligence Agency and DOD civilian personnel."[33] Between 2010 and 2012, the workforce is expected to increase by 100.[34] The majority of workers for the NRO are private corporate contractors, with $7 billion of the agency's $8 billion budget going to private corporations.[14]:178


NRO budget FY 2004 to 2013

The NRO derives its funding both from the US intelligence budget and the military budget. In 1971, the annual budget was estimated to be around $1 billion (inflation adjusted $ 6.2 billion in 2019).[15] A 1975 report by Congress's Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy states that the NRO had "the largest budget of any intelligence agency".[17] By 1994, the annual budget had risen to $6 billion (inflation adjusted $ 10.1 billion in 2019),[35] and for 2010 it is estimated to amount to $15 billion (inflation adjusted $ 17.2 billion in 2019).[36] This would correspond to 19% of the overall US intelligence budget of $80 billion for FY2010.[37] For Fiscal Year 2012 the budget request for science and technology included an increase to almost 6% (about $600 million) of the NRO budget after it had dropped to just about 3% of the overall budget in the years before.[34]

NRO directives and instructions

Under the Freedom of Information Act the NRO declassified a list of their secret directives for internal use. The following is a list of the released directives, which are available for download:

  • NROD 10-2 – "National Reconnaissance Office External Management Policy"
  • NROD 10-4 – "National Reconnaissance Office Sensitive Activities Management Group"
  • NROD 10-5 – "Office of Corporate System Engineer Charter"
  • NROD 22-1 – "Office of Inspector General"
  • NROD 22-2 – "Employee Reports of Urgent Concerns to Congress"
  • NROD 22-3 – "Obligations to report evidence of Possible Violations of Federal Criminal Law and Illegal Intelligence Activities"
  • NROD 50-1 – "Executive Order 12333 – Intelligence Activities Affecting United States Persons"
  • NROD 61-1 – "NRO Internet Policy, Information Technology"
  • NROD 82-1a – "NRO Space Launch Management"
  • NROD 110-2 – "National Reconnaissance Office Records and Information Management Program"
  • NROD 120-1 – The NRO Military Uniform Wear Policy
  • NROD 120-2 – "The NRO Awards and Recognition Programs"
  • NROD 120-3 – "Executive Secretarial Panel"
  • NROD 120-4 – "National Reconnaissance Pioneer Recognition Program"
  • NROD 120-5 – "National Reconnaissance Office Utilization of the Intergovernmental Personnel Act Mobility Program"
  • NROD 121-1 – "Training of NRO Personnel"
  • NROI 150-4 – "Prohibited Items in NRO Headquarters Buildings/Property"

Strategic War Gaming Division

According to a pamphlet advertising a security conference in 2002, the NRO has a Strategic Wargaming Division, then headed by John Fulton, who was "on staff for the CIA".[38]


NRO's technology is likely more advanced than its civilian equivalents. In the 1980s the NRO had satellites and software that were capable of determining the exact dimensions of a tank gun.[17] In 2012 the agency donated two space telescopes to NASA. Despite being stored unused, the instruments are superior to the Hubble Space Telescope. One journalist observed, "If telescopes of this caliber are languishing on shelves, imagine what they're actually using."[39]


KH9 Hexagon integration
KH-9 Hexagon during integration at Lockheed

The NRO maintains four main satellite constellations[40]:

  • NRO SIGINT constellation
  • NRO GEOINT constellation
  • NRO Communications Relay constellation
  • NRO Reconnaissance constellation

The NRO spacecraft include:[41]

GEOINT imaging

GEOINT radar


Space communications

This list is likely to be incomplete, given the classified nature of many NRO spacecraft.

NMIS network

The NRO Management Information System (NMIS) is a computer network used to distribute NRO data classified as Top Secret. It is also known as the Government Wide Area Network (GWAN).[44]


NRO GroundStation
NRO ground station at Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora, CO

In October 2008, NRO declassified five mission ground stations: three in the United States, near Washington, D.C.; Aurora, Colorado; and Las Cruces, New Mexico, and a presence at RAF Menwith Hill, UK, and at the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, Australia.

In popular culture

  • The NRO is featured in Dan Brown's novel Deception Point.

Image gallery

NRO Organization 1971

NRO Organization, circa 1971

NRO Organization 2009

NRO Organization, circa 2009

NRO L11 missionpatch

Patch commemorating launch of a classified payload


The official mission patch from Launch-39

National Reconnaissance Operations Center

National Reconnaissance Operations Center

Aerospace Data Facility-East logo

ADF-East Logo

Aerospace Data Facility-Southwest logo

ADF-Southwest Logo

Aerospace Data Facility-Colorado

ADF-Colorado Logo

See also


  1. ^ "NRO - Directors: Betty J. Sapp". Archived from the original on 2016-10-25. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  2. ^ Intelligence Agencies Must Operate More Like An Enterprise
  3. ^ "Contact the NRO Archived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine" "National Reconnaissance Office Office of Public Affairs 14675 Lee Road Chantilly, VA 20151-1715"
  4. ^ Federation of American Scientists. "The Evolving Role of the NRO".
  5. ^ Official NRO Fact Sheet via, accessed March 2012
  6. ^ "Career Opportunities". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-07-08.
  7. ^ Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community. "Preparing for the 21st Century: An Appraisal of U.S. Intelligence, Chapter 13 – The Cost of Intelligence".
  8. ^ "National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance (CSNR) Bulletin, Combined 2002 Issue" (PDF). Government Attic. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  9. ^ "NRO Provides Support to the Warfighters". Press Release. NRO Press Office. 28 April 1998. Archived from the original on 18 June 2001. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  10. ^ "U.S. Reconnaissance Satellites: Domestic Targets – Documents Describe Use of Satellites in Support of Civil Agencies and Longstanding Controversy". National Security Archive, The George Washington University. 2008-04-11. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
  11. ^ "US satellites shadow China's submarines". Pakistan Defence. 13 May 2010. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  12. ^ a b Stares, Paul B. "The Militarization of Space". p. 23,46. Archived from the original on 2009-01-13. Retrieved 2008-11-24.
  13. ^ Jeffrey Richelson (1990). America's Secret Eyes in Space. Harper & Row.
  14. ^ a b c Paglen, Trevor (February 2009). Blank Spots On the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World. New York: Dutton.
  15. ^ a b (Chief, Special Security Center) (1974-01-07). "History of NRO security breaches" (PDF). National Reconnaissance Office. Retrieved 2010-12-22.
  16. ^ "CIA and others: secret agencies studied". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sarasota: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (published December 19, 1973): 4. 1973.
  17. ^ a b c Bamford, James (1985). "America's Supersecret Eyes In Space". The New York Times. New York: The New York Times (published January 13, 1985).
  18. ^ Jeffrey T. Richelson (September 18, 2008). "Out of the Black: The Declassification of the NRO". National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 257. National Security Archive. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
  19. ^ Fitzgerald, Dennis D. (2005). "Risk Management and National Reconnaissance From the Cold War Up to the Global War on Terrorism" (PDF). Journal of Discipline and Practice, 2005-U1. NRO. Retrieved 2011-07-31.
  20. ^ "Get Smarter: Demystifying the NRO". SECRECY & GOVERNMENT BULLETIN, Issue Number 39. Federation of American Scientists. August–September 1994. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
  21. ^ "Lack of Intelligence". U.S. News & World Report. Archived from the original on 2012-10-23.
  22. ^ Philip Taubman (2007-11-11). "Failure to Launch: In Death of Spy Satellite Program, Lofty Plans and Unrealistic Bids". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-12.
  23. ^ John Schwartz (2008-02-05). "Satellite Spotters Glimpse Secrets, and Tell Them". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-05.
  24. ^ David Stout and Thom Shanker (2008-02-14). "U.S. Officials Say Broken Satellite Will Be Shot Down". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-14.
  25. ^ "DoD Succeeds In Intercepting Non-Functioning Satellite (release=No. 0139-08)" (Press release). U.S. Department of Defense. February 20, 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-20.
  26. ^ Colin Clark (2008-07-03). "Spy Radar Satellites Declassified". DoD Buzz, through Retrieved 2008-07-10.
  27. ^ The Black Vault, "Download the declassified Satellite Reconnaissance: Secret Eyes in Space", NRO, August 2009.
  28. ^ Bruce Carlson (April 14, 2010). "Bruce Carlson, Director, NRO, National Space Symposium, Remarks" (PDF). National Reconnaissance Office. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 27, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-04.
  29. ^ The IG complaint of Mark Phillips concerning the NRO | McClatchy. Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
  30. ^ Taylor, Marisa, "Sen. Charles Grassley Seeks Probe Of Polygraph Techniques At National Reconnaissance Office", The McClatchy Company, 27 July 2012
  31. ^ Taylor, Marisa. (2014-04-22) WASHINGTON: IG: Feds didn't pass polygraph evidence of child abuse to investigators | Courts & Crime. McClatchy DC. Retrieved on 2014-04-28.
  32. ^ NRO Organization.
  33. ^ "NRO Factsheet". p. 1. Archived from the original (Word Document) on 2006-12-11. Retrieved 2007-01-15.
  34. ^ a b Bruce Carlson (2010-09-13). "National Reconnaissance Office Update" (PDF). Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-06. Retrieved 2010-11-25.
  35. ^ Tim Weiner (1994-08-09). "Ultra-Secret Office Gets First Budget Scrutiny". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2013-01-30. Retrieved 2010-12-22.
  36. ^ John Pike (2010). "FY2010 Intelligence Budget". Retrieved 2010-12-22.
  37. ^ Dilanian, Ken (2010-10-28). "Overall U.S. intelligence budget tops $80 billion". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-08.
  38. ^ "America's Leadership Challenge". Archived from the original on August 4, 2002. Retrieved 2008-02-02.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) (pre-event publicity pamphlet for National Law Enforcement And Security Institute [NLSI] conference "Homeland Security: America's Leadership Challenge", September 6, 2002).
  39. ^ Boyle, Rebecca (June 5, 2012). "NASA Adopts Two Spare Spy Telescopes, Each Maybe More Powerful than Hubble". Popular Science. Popular Science Technology Group. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
  40. ^ "NRO Systems Overview - Module 2: Orbital Mechanics" (PDF). National Reconnaissance Office. 13 February 2012. Retrieved 2018-10-11.
  41. ^ a b c d e f g Clapper, James R. (February 2012). "FY 2013 Congressional Budget Justification, Volume 1, National Intelligence Program Summary, Resource Exhibit No. 13" (PDF). DNI.
  42. ^ Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance: Bulletin, Combined 2002 Issue: "Declassification of Early Satellite Reconnaissance Film"
  43. ^ Dr. Bruce Berkowitz (September 2011). "The National Reconnaissance Office At 50 Years: A Brief History" (PDF). Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-15. Retrieved 2011-10-24.
  44. ^ "2009 National Intelligence / A Consumer's Guide" (PDF). Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 2009. Retrieved 2013-08-19. (page 74)
  45. ^ [1] Archived July 7, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  46. ^ Mission Ground Station Declassification memo, 2008
  47. ^ "NRO Mission Ground Station Declassification" (PDF). National Reconnaissance Office. 2008-10-15.

External links

Coordinates: 38°52′55″N 77°27′01″W / 38.88194°N 77.45028°W

2012 National Reconnaissance Office space telescope donation to NASA

The 2012 National Reconnaissance Office space telescope donation to NASA was the declassification and donation to NASA of two identical space telescopes by the United States National Reconnaissance Office. The donation has been described by scientists as a substantial improvement over NASA's current Hubble Space Telescope. Although the telescopes themselves are being given to NASA at no cost, the space agency must still pay for the cost of instruments and electronics for the telescopes, as well as the launch of the telescopes. On February 17, 2016, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) was formally designated as a mission by NASA, predicated on using one of the space telescopes.

Aerospace Data Facility-Colorado

Aerospace Data Facility-Colorado (ADF-C) is one of three satellite ground stations operated by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in the continental United States. Located within Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, the facility is responsible for the command and control of reconnaissance satellites involved in the collection of intelligence information and for the dissemination of that intelligence to other U.S. government agencies. The National Security Agency (NSA) Central Security Service (CSS) Colorado Cryptologic Center (CCC) is co-located with ADF-C and employs around 850 NSA personnel.

Edward C. Aldridge Jr.

Edward "Pete" Cleveland Aldridge Jr. (born August 18, 1938) has served in many top U.S. Defense Department and defense industry jobs, including as Under Secretary of the Air Force from 1981 to 1986, Director of the National Reconnaissance Office 1981-1988, and as the Secretary of the Air Force from 1986 to 1988. From 1989 to 1992 he was president of the Electronic Systems Company division of McDonnell Douglas, and later, CEO of The Aerospace Corporation. He was the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics from 2001 to 2003.

Aldridge was a payload specialist for STS-62-A, the first scheduled Space Shuttle mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The mission was canceled after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and Aldridge never flew.

Future Imagery Architecture

Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) was a program to design a new generation of optical and radar imaging US reconnaissance satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). In 2005 NRO director Donald Kerr recommended the project's termination, and the optical component of the program was finally cancelled in September 2005 by Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. FIA has been called by The New York Times "perhaps the most spectacular and expensive failure in the 50-year history of American spy satellite projects." Despite the optical component's cancellation, the radar component, known as Topaz, has continued, with four satellites in orbit as of February 2016.

Joseph V. Charyk

Joseph Vincent Charyk (September 9, 1920 – September 28, 2016) was widely credited as the founder of the geosynchronous communications satellite industry. He was born in Canmore, Alberta in a Ukrainian family. Early in his career, Charyk consolidated the Central Intelligence Agency, United States Air Force, and United States Navy space programs into the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). He brought the first United States imagery satellite, CORONA, into operation and demonstrated signals intelligence technology from space. During his tenure, the NRO operated the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and managed development of the A-12.Charyk served as Chief Scientist of the United States Air Force until he was appointed the Undersecretary of the Air Force. In 1961 he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to be the first Director of the National Reconnaissance Office. He later returned to aerospace industry, serving as first president of Communications Satellite Corporation. Charyk decided to make geosynchronous satellites the basis of the Comsat network. He fought skepticism that this untested technology would not work for voice transmission because of a half-second time delay. He also raised funds to support this new industry and enlisted the cooperation of countries around the world. His efforts launched a global system that would eventually seem commonplace to billions of people around the world. While at Comsat, Charyk served as President, CEO, and Chairman from 1963 to 1985.Charyk earned his bachelors in Engineering and Physics from the University of Alberta and his PhD in Aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology. In 1973 Charyk was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering for "basic contributions relating to space flight and leadership in development of communications satellites". In 1974 he received the International Emmy Directorate Award for his work with COMSAT. In 1987 President Ronald Reagan awarded Charyk the National Medal of Technology and Innovation "[f]or employment of the concept of the geosynchronous communications satellite systems as the basis for a global telecommunications system, established by international agreement, and for his guidance in the development and growth of the Intelsat system, which today services over 150 nations and territories". Charyk died on September 28, 2016 at the age of 96.

Lacrosse (satellite)

Lacrosse or Onyx is a series of terrestrial radar imaging reconnaissance satellites operated by the United States National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). While not officially confirmed by the NRO or the Government of the United States prior to 2008, there was widespread evidence pointing to its existence, including one NASA website. In July 2008, the NRO itself declassified the existence of its synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite constellation.According to former Director of Central Intelligence Admiral Stansfield Turner, Lacrosse had its origins in 1978 when a dispute between the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Air Force as to whether a combined optical/radar reconnaissance satellite (the CIA proposal) or a radar-only one (the USAF proposal) should be developed was resolved in favor of the USAF.

Lacrosse uses synthetic aperture radar as its prime imaging instrument. It is able to see through cloud cover and also has some ability to penetrate soil, though there have been more powerful instruments deployed in space for this specific purpose. Early versions are believed to have used the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) to relay imagery to a ground station at White Sands, New Mexico. There are some indications that other relay satellites may now be available for use with Lacrosse. The name Lacrosse is used to refer to all variants, while Onyx is sometimes used to refer to the three newer units.Unit costs (including launch) in 1990 dollars are estimated to be in the range of US$0.5 to 1.0 billion.

Leadership of the National Reconnaissance Office

The Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (DNRO) of the United States is responsible to the Secretary of Defense (through the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence) and the Director of National Intelligence for all national space and assigned airborne reconnaissance activities. The DNRO provides top-level management direction to the NRO in response to Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence requirements.

Below is a list of directors of the National Reconnaissance Office, and the terms in office.

List of NRO launches

This is a list of NRO Launch (NROL) designations, i.e. satellites operated by the United States National Reconnaissance Office. Those missions are generally classified, so that their exact purposes and orbital elements are not published. However, amateur astronomers have managed to observe most of the satellites, and leaked information has led to identification of many of the payloads.

Misty (satellite)

Misty is reportedly the name of a classified project by the United States National Reconnaissance Office to operate stealthy reconnaissance satellites. The satellites are conjectured to be photo reconnaissance satellites and the program has been the subject of atypically public debates about its worthiness in the defense budget since December 2004. The estimated project costs in 2004 were, at the time of statement, US$9.5 billion (inflation adjusted US$12.3 billion in 2019).

Poppy (satellite)

POPPY is the code name given to a series of U.S. intelligence satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. The POPPY satellites recorded ELINT data, targeting radar installations in the Soviet Union and Soviet naval ships at sea.The POPPY program was a continuation within NRO's Program C of the Naval Research Laboratory's Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB) ELINT program, also known as Tattletale. The National Security Agency was given the responsibility of collecting, interpreting, and reporting the signals intercepted.

The existence of the POPPY program was declassified by the NRO in September 2005, although most of the details about its capabilities and operation are still classified. The NRO revealed, though, that the POPPY satellites, like other US SIGINT systems, used the principle of signals time difference of arrival, which enables precise locating of an object.

All POPPY launches orbited multiple satellites. The first POPPY launch included two satellites, launch #2 and #3 three satellites each, and subsequent launches orbited four satellites each.

The full configuration thus employed four vehicles in low Earth orbit.There were seven launches of POPPY satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base from 1962 until 1971, all of which were successful. The program continued until August 1977.


USA-184, also known as NRO Launch 22 or NROL-22, is an American signals intelligence satellite, operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. Launched in 2006, it has been identified as the first in a new series of satellites which are replacing the earlier Trumpet spacecraft.USA-184 was launched by Boeing, using a Delta IV carrier rocket flying in the Medium+(4,2) configuration. The rocket was the first Delta IV to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, flying from Space Launch Complex 6, a launch pad originally constructed as part of abandoned plans for manned launches from Vandenberg, originally using Titan rockets, and later Space Shuttles. The launch also marked the first launch of an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle from Vandenberg, and the first launch of an NRO payload on an EELV.

Liftoff took place at 03:33 UTC on 28 June 2006 (20:33 PDT on 27 June). The mission was identified as NRO Launch 22, and was the sixth flight of an Delta IV, with the flight number Delta 317, or D317.The satellite's orbit and mission are officially classified, however like most classified spacecraft it has been located and tracked by amateur observers. It is in a Molniya orbit with a perigee of 1,138 kilometres (707 mi), an apogee of 39,210 kilometres (24,360 mi), and 63.2 degrees of inclination. In addition to its SIGINT payload, USA-184 also carries two secondary instruments; the SBIRS-HEO-1 missile detection payload as part of the Space-Based Infrared System programme, and NASA's TWINS-1 or TWINS-A magnetospheric science instrument as part of the TWINS programme.


USA-193, also known as NRO launch 21 (NROL-21 or simply L-21), was a U.S. military reconnaissance satellite (radar imaging) launched on 14 December 2006. It was the first launch conducted by the United Launch Alliance. Owned by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the craft's precise function and purpose were classified.

The satellite malfunctioned shortly after deployment and was intentionally destroyed 14 months later on 21 February 2008 by a modified SM-3 missile fired from the warship USS Lake Erie, stationed west of Hawaii. The event highlighted growing distrust between the U.S. and China, and was viewed by some to be part of a wider "space race" involving the U.S., China, and Russia.It was the first launch by United Launch Alliance since it was formed in December 2006, and the first Delta II launch since ULA acquisition.


USA-200, also known as NRO Launch 28 or NROL-28, is an American signals intelligence satellite, operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. Launched in 2008, it has been identified as the second satellite in a series known as Improved Trumpet, Advanced Trumpet, or Trumpet follow-on; a replacement for the earlier Trumpet series of satellites.

USA-200 was launched by an Atlas V carrier rocket, flying in the 411 configuration, operated by United Launch Alliance. The rocket was the first Atlas V to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, flying from Space Launch Complex 3E. Liftoff occurred at 10:02 UTC (03:02 PDT) on 13 March 2008. It was identified as NRO Launch 28, and was the thirteenth flight of an Atlas V. The rocket had the tail number AV-006.The satellite's orbit and mission are officially classified, however like most classified spacecraft it has been located and tracked by amateur observers. It is in a Molniya orbit with a perigee of 1,111 kilometres (690 mi), an apogee of 37,580 kilometres (23,350 mi), and 63.5 degrees of inclination. In addition to its SIGINT payload, USA-200 also carries two secondary instruments; the SBIRS-HEO-2 missile detection payload as part of the Space-Based Infrared System programme, and NASA's TWINS-2 or TWINS-B magnetospheric science instrument as part of the TWINS programme.


USA 202, previously NRO Launch 26 or NROL-26, is a classified spacecraft which is operated by the United States National Reconnaissance Office. It is an Advanced Orion ELINT satellite. According to Aviation Week, it "fundamentally involves America's biggest, most secret and expensive military spacecraft on board the world's largest rocket." The combined cost of the spacecraft and launch vehicle has been estimated to be over US$2 billion.Amateur astronomer observations suspected the satellite was eavesdropping on Thuraya 2 and this was reported to be confirmed by documents released on Sep 9, 2016 by The Intercept as part of the Snowden Files.


USA-215, also known as NRO Launch 41 or NROL-41, is an American reconnaissance satellite, operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. Launched in 2010, it has been identified as the first in a new series of radar imaging satellites, developed as part of the Future Imagery Architecture programme, to replace the earlier Lacrosse spacecraft.

USA-215 was launched by an Atlas V carrier rocket, flying in the 501 configuration, operated by United Launch Alliance. The rocket was launched from Space Launch Complex 3E at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, at 04:03:30 UTC (09:03 PDT) on 21 September 2010. It was identified as NRO Launch 41, and was the twenty-third flight of an Atlas V; the vehicle had the tail number AV-025, and was named Gladys.The satellite's orbit and mission are officially classified; however, it has been located by amateur observers in a retrograde low Earth orbit. As of 23 January 2015 it was in an orbit with a perigee of 1,105 kilometres (687 mi), an apogee of 1,116 kilometres (693 mi) and 122.99 degrees of inclination.


USA-234, also known as NRO Launch 25 or NROL-25, is an American reconnaissance satellite, operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2012, it has been identified as the second radar imaging satellite to be launched as part of the Future Imagery Architecture programme.USA-234 was launched by United Launch Alliance, using a Delta IV carrier rocket, making its first flight in the Medium+(5,2) configuration. The rocket was launched from Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg, at 23:12:57 UTC (16:12:57 PDT) on 3 April 2012. It was identified as NRO Launch 25, and was the nineteenth flight of a Delta IV; the vehicle was designated Delta 359, and named Electra.The satellite's orbit and mission are officially classified; however, it has been located by amateur observers in a 1,096 by 1,079 kilometres (681 by 670 mi) orbit, inclined at 123 degrees.


USA-245 or NRO Launch 65 (NROL-65) is an American reconnaissance satellite which is operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. Launched in August 2013, it is the last KH-11 reconnaissance satellite, and the last spacecraft to be launched in the Keyhole program. Details of USA-245's mission are classified by the US military, however numerous independent analysts identified it as a KH-11 before launch, and amateur satellite watchers have since observed it in the orbit used by such satellites. KH-11 satellites are used to provide high-resolution optical and infrared imagery for US intelligence agencies.USA-245 was launched by United Launch Alliance, using a Delta IV Heavy rocket with the flight number Delta 364 and the name Victoria. The launch took place from Space Launch Complex 6 at the Vandenberg Air Force Base at 18:03 UTC (11:03 local time) on 28 August 2013. After deploying its payload, the rocket's upper stage was deorbited after completing one orbit. The launch was the first Delta IV mission to use a new ignition sequence aimed at reducing damage to the first stage insulation caused by igniting a cloud of hydrogen around the vehicle at liftoff. To mitigate this, the rocket's starboard engine was lit two seconds earlier than on previous flights.


USA-247, also known as NRO Launch 39 or NROL-39, is an American reconnaissance satellite, operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. The USA-247 launch received a relatively high level of press coverage due to the mission's choice of logo, which depicts an octopus sitting astride the globe with the motto "Nothing Is Beyond Our Reach". The logo was extensively criticized in light of the 2013 surveillance disclosures.

Vortex (satellite)

Vortex, previously known as Chalet, was a class of spy satellite operated by the United States during the 1980s and 1990s to collect signals intelligence (SIGINT) from high Earth orbit. The Vortex satellites were operated by the National Reconnaissance Office for the United States Air Force and listened to radio transmissions originating from Earth or space. The intercepted data is believed to have been fed into and analyzed by the National Security Agency ECHELON system.

The satellites each had a mass of approximately 1,800 kilograms and are operated from non-stationary geosynchronous orbits. Each reportedly carried a 38-meter-diameter umbrella-like reflecting dish to collect radio signals from Earth. At least six launch attempts were made of Chalet/Vortex satellites between 1978 and 1989. The Chalet/Vortex satellites replaced the older generation of Canyon satellites, and were superseded by the larger, more capable Mercury satellites.

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