All Eyes On The NGA
The U.S. government will spend up to $1.5 billion on commercial imagery and new satellites for U.S. companies throughout the next five years, according to Clark Nelson, global communications executive for Spot Image Corp. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is the focal point as it intends to address future commercial remote sensing imagery acquisition issues including resolution, assured access, prioritization of tasking rights, area coverage and licensing terms via NGA's Nextview and Clearview programs. Nextview is a contract vehicle, which will expand the existing NGA Clearview licensing, among other things, and eliminate several image redistribution restrictions.
Often referred to as a key combat support agency, NGA specializes in image analysis. Nextview will bring NGA directly into the arena of satellite design, and the process of defining requirements starting with a five-year, $500 million commitment to Colorado-based Digitalglobe Inc.
"The U.S. federal government heavily encourages--and requires--all government agencies to rely on commercial satellite imagery whenever possible. The government's effort to improve and foster geographic information systems (GIS), information sharing and data fusion has created a strong boost in the demand for data from companies like Digitalglobe," says company spokesman Chuck Herring.
"The U.S. government is having a highly positive impact and has ensured the future, at least for the short term, the viability of the U.S. satellite imaging sector," says Joe del Rosario, senior analyst and regional director for Asia Pacific at FL-based Northern Sky Research. "Government backing should pave the way towards greater development of this industry."
Orbimage Inc., another Nextview contract award winner, operates both the Orbview 3 high-resolution satellite launched in 2003, and the Orbview 2 ocean and land multispectral imaging satellite. In order to bring the Orbview 5 satellite into service in the second quarter of 2007 -- that is when Orbimage will start receiving NGA funding under the Nextview contract -- the VA-based company will spend more than $500 million.
The NGA, however, cast a shadow over Space Imaging when the company was not included in Nextview. This creates problems for the company when it comes to attracting next round financing for any planned follow- on sensors, says Klayman. At press time, he could not address the details surrounding the contract award because Space Imaging was protesting it.
According to Klayman, while Space Imaging faces an enormous challenge as it seeks to maintain its dominant market share going forward, its Ikonos satellite is the most prolific sensor in use today. "It comes down to the fact that we simply could not simplify our business model to accommodate the NGA," says Klayman. Does the door now open for consolidation in this industry via a possible acquisition of Space Imaging by either Digitalglobe or Orbimage? Klayman cannot rule out this possibility.