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NEWS | Sept. 29, 2023

America’s Ears in Space: NRO Declassified NRL-Developed Electronic Intelligence Satellite Program

By Nicholas Pasquini, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Corporate Communications

During a Centennial Exhibition, held at the Pentagon on Sept. 28, to commemorate the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) 100 years of operations, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) declassified an NRL-developed electronic intelligence satellite program called Parcae.

“With 100 years of history, the Naval Research Lab has been advancing science in national security well before we could actually leverage space,” said Dr. Troy Meink, principal deputy director of the NRO. “Today’s Centennial offers an opportunity to talk about how the lab’s many innovations have helped the National Reconnaissance Office use the vantage point of space to keep America safe and stronger.”

Launched from 1976 to 1996, under mission numbers 7108 and 7120, Parcae and Improved Parcae were Low Earth Orbit electronic intelligence collection systems that downlinked the collected data to ground processing facilities located at selected locations around the world. Once received, the data was provided to the National Security Agency for processing and reporting to U.S. policymakers.

After the success of the GRAB and Poppy signals collection programs, and with increasing concerns about the Soviet Navy, NRL, as part of the NRO’s Program C, developed the next system that would collect the needed information on the Soviet Union’s naval fleet. The system, Parcae, was the programmatic follow-on to GRAB and Poppy.

Later on, the NRO developed the next generation of Parcae, referred to as Improved Parcae, which added the capability to collect against and recognize selected foreign communication systems.

“What we are celebrating today, is not simply the journey of the Navy’s premiere research laboratory or its contributions to the naval service, instead we are celebrating a journey of American ingenuity and a legacy of our best scientists,” said Under Secretary of the Navy the Honorable Erik K. Raven and presiding host. “Our ability to deal with national security and economic threats of today rests heavily on the work of the scientists, engineers and support staff at the Naval Research Laboratory.”
For the first time, a model of Parcae was on display during the exhibition. The NRL workforce showcased their past, present, and future research and highlighted the enduring relationship with government partners and the need for continued investment in scientific research.

“With our eyes fixed on the future, NRL’s first century must inspire resilience in us as serious threats remain,” said Dr. Bruce Danly, NRL director of research. “The NRL ventures now into its next century with the same strong commitment to a vital mission that cannot rest.”
Since opening its gates in 1923, NRL has changed warfighter technologies, advanced military capabilities, surpassed contemporary scientific understanding, and transferred vital innovations to industry.
“We are indeed in an innovative race and it is one that we must win – innovation must always permeate every aspect of our Department’s approach to the delivery of technologies and capabilities at the speed and scale necessary for our Navy and Marine Corps to be successful,” said Secretary of the Navy the Honorable Carlos Del Toro. “I encourage all of you, our nation’s scientists, engineers, researcher, inventors, entrepreneurs and problem solvers to join us.”
About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL is located in Washington, D.C. with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, and employs approximately 3,000 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.

For more information, contact NRL Corporate Communications at (202) 480-3746 or

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