129. Memorandum From Acting Director of the National Reconnaissance Office to the Committee on Foreign Intelligence1 2


  • Expendable Launch Vehicle Backup for National Reconnaissance Program Spacecraft Using the Space Shuttle

I propose for CFI review and approval the attached NRP policy statement.

This statement is based upon my assessment of the risks and uncertainties which will confront the NRO as we approach the Shuttle era. It represents an approach to maintaining an assured capability of operating NRP satellites when they are required to meet national requirements.

Charles W. Cook
Acting Director
[Page 2]

Proposed Statement of Policy on NRP Expendable Launch Vehicle Backup to Space Shuttle

Satellite reconnaissance products are of such great national importance that the NRO must maintain continuously a high level of assurance of being able to provide the President and other senior officials with this key intelligence data. As the Space Shuttle becomes the basic booster, the United States cannot be placed in a position of having a catastrophic single point failure mode with respect to the continuity of overhead reconnaissance.

During the period of transition to the Shuttle the reliability of the Shuttle will be a major, but gradually diminishing, factor in determining requirements for expendable Shuttle backup launch vehicles. In contrast, Shuttle vulnerability and operational and logistic restrictions will continue indefinitely to influence the need for backup boosters.

An additional requirement for expendable boosters in the Shuttle era arises out of the need to provide a quick reaction capability during crises. In crisis periods the importance of overhead reconnaissance would increase, yet our primary reconnaissance vehicles and launch vehicles (Shuttle) might be neutralized.

Therefore, as a matter of policy, the NRO must extend beyond the Shuttle transition period its consideration of the requirement for expendable launch vehicles to back up the Shuttle. Until the Shuttle can provide a very high probability of successful launch, with consideration being given to all the factors above, there will be a continuing need for Shuttle backup. The need will be driven by the priority and urgency of individual missions and will vary by mission.

The resources to be devoted to Shuttle backup will be determined through trade-offs between costs and prioritized requirements. The NRO must provide the maximum assurance of continuity of essential intelligence data at minimum cost. The Shuttle will bring about a fundamental change in the environment in which expendable launch vehicles are procured and operated. Therefore, it will be essential to develop innovative approaches in order to reduce costs.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79M00467A, Executive Registry Files (OPI 10), Space Policy Interface 64 010176–311276. Top Secret; Codeword.
  2. This memorandum circulates a proposed statement of policy for consideration. The proposal maintains an independence capacity to launch satellites with expendable vehicles during the initial stages of Space Shuttle operation.