NIMA’s Award Fuels Contractors

By | October 13, 2003 | Feature

Aerospace companies that had the foresight to partner with Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe are celebrating their share of the company’s $500 million NextView satellite imagery contract awarded earlier this month by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA).

When such large dollar amounts are stake, it is little wonder that companies are willing to play second fiddle to the bidder. Further funds also could be secured by the agency to award a second contract to remote sensing rival Thornton, Colo.-based Space Imaging.

With commercial revenue opportunities for remote sensing slow to develop, government contracts have become growth engines for U.S. companies that provide high-resolution satellite imagery.

DigitalGlobe’s list of satellite and launch vehicle partners includes Ball Aerospace & Technologies, Eastman Kodak [NYSE: EK] and Boeing’s [NYSE: BA] launch services unit. For the ground segment, DigitalGlobe has lined up BAE Systems to take the lead for the production segment development team, while other partners, including Boeing Autometric, AERO- METRIC, EarthData, ESRI, Harris, IBM [NYSE: IBM] and InSequence, offer co-production, internal business systems, e- commerce capabilities, software com- ponents and systems engineering.

European Back Up

Another DigitalGlobe team member is Chantilly, Va.-based Spot Image, the U.S. subsidiary of the similarly named French parent. Spot will serve as an alternative imagery supplier. The French parent is part of a European consortium planning to launch a high-resolution satellite constellation, Pleiades, which could be used as a backup provider of imagery to DigitalGlobe and others.

Spot Image’s Clark Nelson commented, “The inclusion of Spot in the DigitalGlobe bid is a reflection of how helpful the new U.S. national space policy is to allow global cooperation. We now can capitalize on the availability of non-U.S. satellite capability.”

That new U.S. government remote sensing policy, adopted by the White House in May, is aimed at promoting the use of commercial remote sensing imagery. The policy’s objective is to give all remote sensing companies a chance to bid for the opportunity to meet the imagery needs of the U.S. government, said Gil Klinger, the National Security Agency’s director of space policy.

The new policy covers licensing and operation of U.S. commercial remote sensing systems, U.S. government use of commercial remote sensing capabilities, foreign access to U.S. commercial remote sensing services, and government-to-government intelligence, defense, and foreign policy relationships involving U.S. commercial remote sensing capabilities (SN, May 19). The policy unveiled in May supercedes a nine-year-old U.S. government policy on remote sensing known as Presidential Decision Directive (PDD 23).

As a team member of DigitalGlobe’s bid, Ball Aerospace will play an integral role in ensuring that the next-generation of commercial satellites will provide the U.S. government with advanced capability and capacity, said David L. Taylor, president and CEO of Ball Aerospace.

The NextView contract furthers a relationship first established between Ball Aerospace and DigitalGlobe in the development of the in-orbit QuickBird high-resolution satellite, said Cary Ludtke, Ball Aerospace’s vice president and general manager for commercial space operations. The QuickBird satellite, designed and built by Ball Aerospace, was launched in 2001 as the highest resolution commercial remote sensing satellite, he added.

Second Contract?

If a second contract ultimately were awarded to Space Imaging, one of the companies benefiting from that arrangement would be Dulles, Va.-based ORBIMAGE.

Tim Puckorius, ORBIMAGE’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing and sales, said his company has high hopes that a second contract will be awarded. If so, ORBIMAGE would participate as a subcontractor.

“What we decided to do was pursue our strength in our unique geospatial map production work,” Puckorius said. ORBIMAGE proposed to use its map production operation in St. Louis to lead imagery processing for Space Imaging, he added.

“That is a huge role,” Puckorius said. “The amount of raw imagery that the NextView satellites are expected to collect on a daily basis is an order of magnitude larger than current systems can provide. Turning this amount of imagery into useful mapping and intelligence products will be a critical element to the program’s success.”

ORBIMAGE’s strategy is to focus on the successful rollout of products and services from its OrbView 3 satellite, which was launched June 26. For that reason, seeking a piece of the NextView contract as part of the Space Imaging bid was the company’s best possible decision, Puckorius said.

“ORBIMAGE is on our NextView team for their robust production capability,” said Mark Brender, Space Imaging’s vice president of corporate communications. “We also are in discussions [with ORBIMAGE] for additional production work under the NIMA $120 million, five-year ClearView contract that was awarded to Space Imaging in January of this year.”

ORBIMAGE also will take the lead in making bids of its own for government contracts. For example, the company currently is pursuing a hyperspectral-imaging program with the Department of Defense (DoD). NIMA, which serves the satellite imagery needs of DoD, is compiling requirements for that prospective contract, Puckorius said.

ORBIMAGE already has a “heritage” with hyperspectral systems and a huge demand exists for such data, Puckorius said. The company currently is in discussion with a number of prospective partners and providers of satellite buses, sensors and ground process segments, he added. –Paul Dykewicz

(Chuck Herring, DigitalGlobe, 303/682-3820; Rachelle Wood, Ball Aerospace, 303/939-6606; Timothy Puckerious, ORBIMAGE, 703/480-7527; Mark Brender, Space Imaging, 703/558-0309; Clark Nelson, Spot, 703/715-3131; Joan Mears, NIMA, 301/227-2057)

Live chat by BoldChat