Space policy touts satellite imagery for homeland security

The White House published an ambitious, new national space policy Oct. 6 that lays out goals for exploration and addresses the government's need to enhance homeland security by collecting intelligence imagery within the United States using high-resolution government satellites.

The 10-page unclassified version of the policy was posted on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Web site. It updates a 1996 policy and covers topics such as exploration, space debris and capabilities for national security.

The provisions authorizing satellite imagery for homeland security inspired debate today among IT experts.

"That is the first time I have seen that in print," said a geospatial industry expert who asked not to be identified, referring to language related to imaging within the United States by high-resolution government satellites.

While the provisions are "eyebrow raising," they are constrained by a stipulation that the satellite imagery complies with today's laws, Stephen Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, said in an interview.

"I think the answer is no, this provision is not new, because it states it is consistent with applicable laws," Aftergood said.

The policy supports human and robotic exploration of space and a robust science and technology base for national security. It charges the national intelligence director with responsibilities to implement intelligence goals for the collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of national intelligence related to space.

For building the science industrial base, the government shall enable future space systems to achieve new and improved capabilities, conduct basic and applied research, use incentives including prize competitions to encourage innovations in technology, and ensure the availability of space-related industrial capabilities, the policy states.

The document states that U.S. government satellite photoreconnaissance now includes a near real-time capability and overhead signals intelligence. Many IT systems integrators use satellite imagery for homeland security projects.

Both commercial and government satellite imaging is expected to be used in the Homeland Security Department's Secure Border Initiative border surveillance system.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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