As part of the long-term push to develop a new program of the record, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is planning to assess commercial capabilities to deliver diverse geospatial datasets. Peter Muend, who serves as the director in charge of NRO Commercial Systems Program Office, spoke with reporters after NRO Director Christopher Scolese revealed the agency’s plan to release a BAA (Broad Agency Announcement) to study the commercial synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) datasets.
The NRO is requesting input from companies that already acquire SAR images and data as well as those that will “have some capabilities in the relatively near future” through the BAA, which is expected to be released this autumn. “We’re excited to see how they model and begin thinking about how that capability can integrate into our bigger hybrid architecture,” which includes both government and commercial satellites. “We’re going to be very curious to begin receiving a bit of that data, to review it, and make sure that quality lines up” with stated capabilities as businesses launch SAR satellites and start to acquire fresh datasets, Muend said.
Startups and established companies that are not yet prepared to publish their SAR plans, as well as those preparing to collect additional types of the geospatial data, will be able to reply to future BAAs. “We’ll be putting out emphasis areas on a pretty regular basis,” Muend added, “several times a year, I’d imagine, with different focus areas.” NRO will collect information on the SAR capabilities from the U.S. companies, including U.S. companies with foreign ownership, for the first BAA.
“Companies with subsidiaries in the United States would fall under that category,” Muend explained. “Obviously, there are always security concerns to address, but it won’t be as restricted to solely American control.” (This is significant because Iceye of Finland, the first commercial corporation to construct a SAR constellation, has a California subsidiary.)
According to Muend, after the NRO discovers prospective commercial capabilities, it may grant direct funding to corporations for efforts to meet specific government needs. The NRO will collaborate with other government organizations, such as National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, to undertake “formal quality evaluations” of the datasets to see how they are going to fit into “government architectures,” according to Muend.
The NRO is anticipated to begin building mechanisms to assign SAR satellites to collect images with a manual process, but this will move to an automated process when the NRO establishes mechanisms to assign SAR satellites to gather imagery. This procedure is likely to aid the NRO in establishing formal specifications for a new program of record in the long run. According to Muend, the community will be able to “stand behind and budget for” that record-keeping scheme in the long run.