National Reconnaissance Office seeks talent, small satellite innovations

To keep pace with global adversaries, the National Reconnaissance Office is focused on growing and hiring the best talent available, the agency’s Principal Deputy Director Troy Meink told an audience at the 39th Space Symposium.

The agency uses satellites to monitor the globe, helping military and civilian leaders make national security decisions, while also playing a key role in disaster response. To fulfill that role in an increasingly contested world, the agency needs bright young minds, Meink said.

“We need all the talent the U.S. and our allies can offer,” he said.

That talent will help the agency deal with growing threats in orbit, Meink said. The top day-to-day manager of the satellite intelligence agency, Meink said NRO satellites are threatened by antisatellite weapons, directed energy weapons, jamming and hacking.

“We need to innovate faster than anyone else,” he said.

Meink spoke just before the agency launched a national security satellite atop the last Delta launch vehicle in the American inventory.

The satellite launched as the agency transitions from a few bus-sized orbiting platforms to more numerous and smaller spy satellites. The new satellites will be harder to target, and because of sheer numbers will make it difficult for an enemy to deny NRO capabilities with an attack.

“They help us with the cost perspective, and they also give us a lot of flexibility,” Meink said.

Meink said commercial satellite technology is the keystone for the NRO’s new fleet, making it possible to develop satellites for a fraction of the price of the old, large spacecraft.

The lowered cost and ability to launch more rapidly also give NRO a new luxury, Meink said: The ability to take risks.

“When you are building a lot of satellites and you launch multiple per year you have a lot more flexibility in how you how you take satellite to satellite risk while still maintaining low risk to the constellation,” he said.