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Cheesed-off spooks give up on duff spy-sat

Contractors sin-binned in string of space peeper cockups

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Further admissions of expensive technical disasters have emerged from the United States' secretive spy-satellite agency, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

Reuters reports today that a classified space platform employing new technologies, designated L-21, has been in orbit since last December. L-21, reportedly made by American arms-tech colossus Lockheed, is said to have cost "hundreds of millions of dollars," but sadly it has never responded to communications from the ground since being launched.

The NRO has now given up trying to make it work. The pricey peeping-Tom will orbit the Earth for decades before falling into the atmosphere and breaking up.

The L-21 fiasco is the latest in a string of mishaps at the NRO. Recently, a brace of top secret ocean surveillance sats were inadvertently fired into the wrong orbits by a malfunctioning Lockheed-made Centaur rocket. Controllers are trying to coax the errant spy-birds into a useful flightpath using their manoeuvring jets, but this is bad news as it will shorten their useful lives.

Lockheed was already in hot water before that, with its troubled, billion-dollar "Misty" satellite programme recommended for the chop by NRO director Ronald Kerr on the grounds that he didn't think it would ever be a success.

Troubles for Lockheed would normally be good news for its main rival in the US military market, Boeing. But Reuters cites an unnamed government official as saying that Boeing is also in the sat-spooks' bad books, having been sin-binned for making crappy secret space gear. Apparently, Boeing is now on a "watch list", meaning that it can only bid on new sky-spy work if granted a waiver.

The NRO may have to grant such waivers fairly often, however, unless it wants to be stuck with no choice other than Lockheed. ®

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