The new program will take the place of one that had been awarded to The Boeing Co. The Pentagon canceled that project in 2005 because it was grossly over budget and behind schedule.
An intelligence official, who spoke to reporters shortly after the White House approved the program, said the new spy satellites would offer the same capability of those now in use. Officials were concerned that significant changes in their design could break the budget for the program or delay the launch of the satellites, he said.
The official, who spoke only on the condition that his name not be used, declined to reveal the budget for the program.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has already complained about the price tag, which he put at more than $10 billion. The official said that figure is incorrect but would not offer an alternative.