NIMA looks to secure its role in satellite imaging

'NIMA's NextView effort is a significant milestone for our agency.'

'NIMA's Director, Retired Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr.

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency has awarded a contract that promotes R&D of next-generation tools that will produce images captured by commercial satellites as well as strengthens the government's alliance with the remote-sensing industry.

Under a five-year, $530 million contract, DigitalGlobe Inc. of Longmont, Colo., will capture and disseminate high-resolution imagery from commercial satellites.

'NIMA's NextView effort is a significant milestone for our agency,' said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., NIMA's director. 'It represents NIMA's commitment toward guaranteeing that our nation maintains a technological edge in satellite imagery technology.'

Along with the contract awarded to DigitalGlobe, NIMA is in discussions with Space Imaging LLC of Thornton, Colo., to continue developing a system to provide an additional source for collecting commercial imagery. The two companies were the only ones that bid on the NextView contract, NIMA officials said.

Earlier this year, NIMA awarded comparable three-year contracts under a program known as Clearview. Under those deals, Space Imaging won a $120 million contract and DigitalGlobe a $72 million contract.

Both the NextView and Clearview efforts dovetail with a White House policy issued in May concerning the licensing and operation of remote-sensing space systems used to collect imagery and geospatial data.

Remote-sensing space systems refer to the spectrum of systems that gather geospatial satellite images: satellites, ground stations, data links, and command and control facilities.

The White House drafted the Commercial Remote Sensing Space Policy because of the government's growing reliance on commercial systems to capture images for national security purposes. The policy calls for industry to build systems that meet security standards set by the Defense Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The policy directs NIMA, consulting with the State Department, to act as the lead agency in acquiring and disseminating imagery and geographic information systems data gathered by commercial remote-sensing systems.

'NextView moves beyond the commodity-based approach of commercial imagery acquisition and seeks to assure access, priority tasking rights, volume [coverage] and broad licensing terms for sharing imagery with all potential mission partners,' NIMA said in a statement.

On a path

NIMA officials said the NextView contract helps the agency continue its tradition of relying on U.S. companies for its satellite needs.

The contract will enable DigitalGlobe to launch additional satellites and make its ground systems and processing centers more robust, officials said.

Roberta E. Lenczowski, technical executive at NIMA, said agency and industry officials will work at reaching an agreement on quality and resolution requirements for imagery.

'We're examining requirements for spatial products and data sets,' Lenczowski said. 'The objective is to satisfy as many geospatial requirements as we can in the commercial satellite space.'

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