WASHINGTON ? A new charter that would give the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office full budget authority for its own programs is expected to be approved in the coming weeks by the secretary of defense and director national intelligence, the NRO's top official said Sept. 13.

The NRO, which builds and operates the nation's classified spy satellites, currently can decide when most of its programs are ready to move from the research and development phase to production. For select programs, however, the so-called milestone decision authority is controlled by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The NRO will take charge of all its programs under the new charter, NRO Director Bruce Carlson said at the annual Air Force Association conference here.

As an agency that serves both the Defense Department and intelligence community, the NRO is often given program requirements that are at odds. The new charter will give the NRO director the ability to call a meeting of the agency's two bosses, the secretary of defense and director of national intelligence, to ensure new programs are being conceived in an executable manner, Carlson said.

"I'm not going to start a program where the requirements aren't matched to the resources," Carlson said.

Meanwhile, the NRO is entering a critical eight-month period in which it plans to launch five national security satellites, starting with an Atlas 5 launch now slated for Sept. 20.

These new spacecraft are planned to replace satellites in rapidly aging constellations that have far outlived their design lives, Carlson said.

"This is the most aggressive launch campaign we've had in 20 years," Carlson said.

This article was provided by Space News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.