WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office has signed five-year agreements with six commercial providers of hyperspectral satellite imagery, the agency announced March 22.
The selected companies — BlackSky Technology, HyperSat, Orbital Sidekick, Pixxel, Planet and Xplore — are a mix of established remote-sensing industry firms and startups.
Under these agreements, the NRO will first assess the companies’ technical capabilities as well as their business and cybersecurity plans. At a later stage, it will examine their on-orbit assets and procure data for demonstrations.Contracts with companies that don’t yet have operational constellations give the NRO access to their modeling and simulations until they are able to start delivering actual data.
The six vendors were selected under the NRO’s Strategic Commercial Enhancements program created to help the agency understand the capabilities of the commercial remote sensing industry. The SCE program is open to both U.S. and foreign-owned U.S. commercial firms.
“We are very excited to explore the potential of commercial hyperspectral imagery and what it may be able to contribute to our world-class intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.”
– National Reconnaissance Office Director Chris Scolese
These awards follow six study contracts for commercial radio frequency remote sensing awarded in September 2022, and five commercial radar contracts in January 2022.
Hyperspectral sensors provide data across multiple spectral bands to enable analysts to detect phenomena in colors that typically can’t be seen by the human eye. The technology has government and commercial applications and the NRO has for years expressed interest in using the data.
A number of hyperspectral imaging startups have emerged in recent years. Earth observation companies in this sector of the industry have historically struggled to find compelling uses for hyperspectral data, which has traditionally focused on defense. Companies said demand has been growing in the agriculture, mining, climate, oil and gas sectors.
The NRO in 2019 awarded its first commercial hyperspectral imaging study contract to startup HySpecIQ.