COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The National Reconnaissance Office could launch the first satellites in its proliferated space architecture as soon as next month, according to a top agency official.

Troy Meink, the NRO’s principal deputy director, said the launch is one of six planned for this year to support the spy agency’s push to increase the number of spacecraft it has in orbit.

“This launch will be the first launch of the actual operational system,” Meink said April 9 at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. “The system will increase timeliness of access, diversity of communication paths and enhance our resilience.”

Launches to support the NRO’s proliferated architecture will continue through 2028.

Meink did not discuss how many satellites will fly on this first launch, dubbed NROL-146, nor did he offer a sense of the full scope of the program. An agency spokesperson refused to provide more detail on the effort or expand on the mission.

The NRO is responsible for designing, launching and operating spy satellites for the U.S. government. In recent years, it has expanded its use of commercial services to enhance and augment the capabilities provided by the satellites it owns and operates.

One notable example of this is the agency’s Electro-Optical Commercial Layer program, through which it issued 10-year contracts to commercial firms that specialize in providing satellite imagery, like Maxar Technologies, Planet Labs and Black Sky.

While it’s not clear what companies are providing the satellites for this proliferated effort, Meink described it as a hybrid architecture, indicating it likely involves non-traditional firms.

He noted that the agency has been developing the constellation over the past few years and has launched several demonstration satellites to test the concept.

The NRO’s pursuit of a proliferated satellite fleet composed of large numbers of small spacecraft is similar to that of the Space Development Agency, which is working with industry to field hundreds of missile tracking and communication satellites in the coming years.

Meink said these architectures are enabled by a significant drop in the cost of launch, commercial advancements in digital technology and the government’s willingness to take more risk in order to field new systems faster.

“It’s not just that we woke up a few years ago and said, ‘Hey, we would really like to build these kinds of architectures,’” he said. “The technology and other facts just were not available to us, but they are now. And that’s why we’re headed down this path.”

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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