DENVER – Ever since Russian forces began moving to invade Ukraine, commercial satellite operators have provided US intelligence agencies with extensive radio frequency and synthetic aperture radar electro-optical data.
BlackSky, Maxar Technologies and Planet, for example, have shared “millions and millions of square kilometers of imagery” over Ukraine and Russia, specifically, Peter Muend, director of the Commercial Systems Program Office at the National Reconnaissance Office, said the April 25 at the GEOINT Symposium. .
Muend also cited Capella Space for providing extensive SAR data and HawkEye 360 for supplying RF data to US government agencies. Those agencies, in turn, are sharing images and data with US partners and allies. .
Commercial satellite images and data have featured prominently in news reports and social media posts since Russia invaded Ukraine.
“I have to say that I am very impressed and proud that the commercial providers in many cases that we have as partners are leading the change, making sure that it is becoming a more transparent world, especially in light of the actions that are being taken. out in Ukraine. Mund said.
The war is occurring at a turning point for commercial Earth observation. Dozens of companies in the United States and around the world are building constellations of tens or hundreds of satellites equipped with sensors to reveal what is happening on the ground.
Recognizing the value of those data sets, NRO has issued contracts to meet immediate needs, while undertaking the formal process of writing requirements for long-term registry programs to bring business capabilities to an integrated architecture that includes government classified systems. from USA
To track activity in and around Ukraine, NRO has “added scope and value to many” commercial data contracts, Muend said. In many cases, the agency “has added or exercised a crisis clause to allow for greater 24/7 response capability,” he added.
In addition, NRO has worked very closely with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and combat commands “to facilitate access and rapid dissemination of commercial imagery, RF data, and certainly SAR data as well,” Muend said.
The images and data have been shared with a wide variety of NRO partners through NGA’s Global Enhanced GEOINT Delivery System, which has evolved to include SAR data.
“We’re sending some of our commercial radar data that we’re buying through that same platform and it’s having a dramatic effect on the partners and allies that we’re sending the data to,” Muend said.
NRO is in the process of establishing a registration program for commercial satellite imagery called the Electro-Optical Commercial Layer (EOCL).
“EOCL is supported by validated requirements,” Muend said. “The community formally stood up and said these are our long-term requirements.”
With the requirements in place, the NRO is seeking funding for the new registry program.
“The budget reflects the requirements and those two, of course, need to line up,” Muend said.
The NRO plans to follow a similar process for SAR. After issuing an Agency Broad Announcement to assess commercial capabilities, the NRO awarded contracts in January to Airbus US, Capella, Iceye US, PredaSAR and Umbra. Through the contracts, NRO is evaluating various business capabilities.
Using information from our study contracts, the NRO is getting “a good understanding of where the market is going” and is also working with NGA and the intelligence community to “think about what business-class radar needs we’re going to have.” in the future and how they are going to be met. it’s going to intersect with what we’re providing on the domestic side,” Muend said.
RF monitoring is the next capability that NRO intends to explore in depth.
For commercial RF monitoring, NRO will evaluate in-orbit capabilities as well as modeling and simulation data for planned constellations. It’s all part of the intelligence community’s effort to determine “how commercial RF is going to play into that next bigger generation.” [signals intelligence] aerial architecture,” Muend said.
NRO is also eager to explore commercial hyperspectral data.
“We have contracts with at least one hyperspectral provider now and we can’t wait to move forward,” Muend said.
HyspecIQ won a studio contract from NRO in 2019 which the agency extended through September 30, 2022.