The National Reconnaissance Office said it launched the first satellites in its proliferated constellation, which will provide rapid data collection and delivery across multiple orbits.

The May 22 mission, dubbed NROL-146, flew on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, according to an NRO statement. The intelligence agency didn’t detail how many satellites were launched.

“The NROL-146 mission that launched today reflects the NRO’s commitment to developing innovative, faster, and more resilient technologies and providing greater capabilities to our IC, DoD, and allied partners,” Director Chris Scolese said in the statement. “These systems provide key information that can only be obtained from the vantage point of space.”

The agency has been developing the constellation over the past few years and has flown multiple demonstration satellites to validate its concept for a proliferated architecture. Officials have refused to describe the envisioned scope of the effort, but NRO plans to conduct five more launches this year.

More missions are expected through 2028 and beyond, according to Troy Meink, NRO’s deputy director.

“Over the next decade, we will continue to increase the number of satellites operating across multiple orbits — complementing the NRO’s cutting-edge, highly-capable satellites that are the traditional hallmark of the NRO by adding responsive, proliferated systems,” Meink said in the statement. “Our proliferated systems will increase timeliness of access, diversify communications pathways, and enhance our resilience.”

The NRO designs, launches and operates 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.

While officials haven’t identified which companies are building its new satellite constellation, Reuters previously reported that Northrop Grumman and SpaceX are involved in the effort. The agency’s principal deputy director said in April at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs that it would be a hybrid architecture, indicating it likely involves a mix of defense and non-traditional firms.

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.

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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