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NRO Awards Commercial Radar Contracts to Airbus, Capella Space, Iceye, and Others

By Frank Wolfe | January 20, 2022

      Artist impression of Capella SAR satellite. Background image courtesy NASA. Photo: Capella Space

      The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has awarded five commercial radar contracts to Airbus‘ U.S. division; San Francisco-based Capella Space; Finland-based Iceye’s U.S. division; Florida-based PredaSAR Corp.; and Santa Barbara-based Umbra Lab Inc., the agency said on Jan. 20. The awards come under NRO’s Strategic Commercial Enhancements Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) Framework, announced by NRO Director Chris Scolese last October.

      “We know that users across the National System for Geospatial Intelligence are eager to explore commercial radar, and these contracts will allow us to rapidly validate capabilities and the benefits to the national mission,” Scolese said in a Jan. 20 statement.

      NRO wants to take advantage of the “explosion of innovation on the commercial said,” Scolese said last October. The NRO has said that leveraging commercial capabilities in commercial radar, hyperspectral imagery, radio frequency remote sensing, and electro-optical (EO) imagery will help the agency reserve its satellites “for the most stressing and sensitive missions.”

      The NRO also wants commercial EO satellite imagery to help sustain and strengthen U.S. industry and increase the capacity and resilience of satellites used for national security purposes.

      The BAA is to enable the NRO to buy a range of commercial imagery, including EO, radar, hyperspectral, radio frequency remote sensing, and light and detection ranging (LIDAR) data, and to help providers scale up their capabilities. Scolese has said that the traditional NRO acquisition process takes five to 10 years and the agency has already demonstrated it can acquire capabilities in three years. The goal with the BAA is to shrink that further, he said.

      Pete Muend, NRO’s Commercial Systems Program director, said last November that the NRO buys about 50,000 commercial images per week and will increase that buy.

      “We were able to issue the request for proposal, receive and evaluate the responses, and award these contracts in just over three months,” Muend said in a Jan. 20 statement on the five commercial radar contracts under the BAA. The NRO is to announce the next focus area under the BAA later this year.

      Commercial contracts provide the NRO about 100 million square kilometers of commercial imagery per week, Scolese said last year.

      This story was first published by Via Satellite sister publication Defense Daily.