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Obama approves purchase of new spy satellites

THE Obama administration has approved the purchase of new spy satellites and will buy more commercial imagery from the private sector to plug gaps in satellite coverage.

The new program will take the place of one that had been awarded to Boeing. The Defense Department canceled that project in 2005 because it was over budget and behind schedule.

An intelligence official said the new spy satellites would offer the same capability as those now in use. Officials worried that significant changes in their design could break the budget for the program, which has not been revealed, or delay the launch of the satellites, he said.

Senator Kit Bond, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has already complained about the price tag, which he put at more than US$10 billion. The official said that figure was incorrect but would not offer an alternative.

The official would also not specify how many spy satellites would be built or when they would be launched. He said it would be soon enough to plug any gaps left by the 2005 cancellation.

Boeing spent almost US$10 billion developing its secret satellite before it ran into technical problems and the Pentagon pulled the plug.

At the same time, the White House has agreed to boost the amount of commercial imagery it buys. It now spends US$25 million a month with DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colorado, and GeoEye of Dulles, Virginia, buying private imagery that can show outlines of objects as small as 40 centimeters.


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