Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) was a program awarded to Boeing to design a new generation of optical and radar imaging US reconnaissance satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). In 2005 NRO director Donald Kerr recommended the project's termination, and the optical component of the program was finally cancelled in September 2005 by Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. FIA has been called by The New York Times "perhaps the most spectacular and expensive failure in the 50-year history of American spy satellite projects." Despite the optical component's cancellation, the radar component, known as Topaz, has continued, with four satellites in orbit as of February 2016.
In 1999 the development contract for FIA was awarded to the Boeing company with a budget of US$5 billion for the first 5 years, and a total budget of US$10 billion. A NRO evaluation team estimated that Lockheed Martin's competing proposal would require about US$1 billion (inflation adjusted US$ 1.53 billion in 2019) more to implement than Boeing's proposal. By 2005, an estimated US$10 billion had been spent by the US government on FIA, including Boeing's accumulated cost overrun of US$4 to 5 billion, and it was estimated to have an accumulated cost of US$25 billion over the ensuing twenty years. In September 2005 the contract for the electro-optical satellites was shifted to Lockheed Martin because of the cost overruns and delays of the delivery date. Lockheed was asked to restart production of KH-11 Kennen satellite system with new upgrades. The contract for the imaging radar satellite remained with Boeing. In September 2010 NRO director Bruce Carlson stated that while most NRO "(...) programs are operating on schedule and on cost (...)", one program is "(...) 700 percent over in schedule and 300 percent over in budget".
The exact scope and mission of FIA are classified, although the head of the NRO said in 2001 that the project would focus on creating smaller and lighter satellites. Some industry experts believe that a key objective is to make the satellites more difficult to attack, possibly by placing them in higher orbits. Because of the large size of the program, as well as number of workers involved, some experts have compared it to the 1940s Manhattan Project.
The optical system was specified to provide both high angular resolution via image stabilisation and wide angle (large field of view) capability. The original optical specification could not be met, requiring a redesign. The program also suffered from manufacturing flaws in gyroscopes required to control satellite attitudes. Another key component of F.I.A. was to launch and orbit at least 10 satellites, which would provide a 2.5 times higher cadence of viewing opportunities than the previous EOI constellation.
The radar imaging system was specified to provide better image quality than previous system by employing a very strong radar signal. Among others, the required Traveling-wave tube proved to be highly challenging, resulting in significant schedule delays.
The first operational FIA Radar satellite, USA-215 or NROL-41, was launched on 21 September 2010. It is in a retrograde 1100 x 1105 km orbit inclined by 123 degrees, an orbital configuration indicating it is an SAR satellite. On 3 April 2012, a second satellite, USA-234 or NROL-25, was launched into a similar orbit.
The earlier USA-193 satellite, launched in 2006, is believed to have been a technology demonstration satellite intended to test and develop systems for the FIA radar programme. However, it failed immediately after launch, and was subsequently destroyed by a missile.
|Launch vehicle||Launch site||Launch designation||Orbit||Decay date||Remarks|
|21 September 2010
|Atlas V 501||VAFB SLC-3E||NROL-41||1,102 km x 1,105 km x 123°||in orbit|
|3 April 2012
|Delta IV M+(5,2)||VAFB SLC-6||NROL-25||~1,100 km x ~1,100 km x 123°||in orbit|
|6 December 2013
|Atlas V 501||VAFB SLC-3E||NROL-39||1,108 km x 1,113 km x 123°||in orbit|
|10 February 2016
|Delta IV M+(5,2)||VAFB SLC-6||NROL-45||1,077 km x 1,086 km x 123.0°||in orbit|
|12 January 2018
|Delta IV M+(5,2)||VAFB SLC-6||NROL-47||1,048 km x 1,057 km x 106°||in orbit|
The failed FIA program is to be succeeded by the Next Generation Electro-Optical (NGEO) program. NGEO is intended as a lower-risk modular system, which is capable of being modified incrementally over its lifetime.