Spy satellites have become an integral part of the American defense infrastructure. While we still rely on spy planes, having downward facing observatories in orbit grants us the continued ability to keep tabs on international opponents, see troop and equipment movements, and gather intelligence that can supplement information gained through other sources. Having an eye in the sky (or a series of them) is invaluable to our nation’s defense efforts… but despite the term, that invaluable level of observation comes with a pretty hefty price tag.
Simple commercial satellites can often be planned, assembled and launched in as little as two to three years, while larger, more complex satellites like the Hubble Space Telescope can take more than a decade to go from the design phase to actual launch. The time and resources required to build such a complex piece of machinery, and to equip it with the latest in observation technologies, are formidable to say the least, and it’s likely that America’s most advanced spy satellites are at least near comparable in complexity and cost to orbiters like the Hubble.
A spy satellite designed today would include the most advanced observation and communications technologies available today – available, of course, meaning thoroughly vetted for reliability and effectiveness while within budget. That seems great, but because it could take a decade before today’s design sees deployment, the equipment we have in orbit is often outdated before it ever sees launch.
At the rate of digital advancement, ten years is practically a life time. Just to provide frame of reference, ten years ago today, the first ever iPhone still hadn’t been released for purchase yet. That means that in all likelihood, the best spy satellite we could launch into orbit today could potentially be equipped with tech made back when Snake was still one of the best games you could get on your cell phone.