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NOAA Eliminates Certain Restrictions on Commercial Remote Sensing Companies

By Rachel Jewett | August 7, 2023

      Umbra releases 16-cm SAR imagery of the Dole Pineapple Garden Maze in Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo: Umbra

      The U.S. government lifted certain restrictions on commercial remote sensing satellite companies on Monday. The changes came from NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) office, which is a division of the Office of Space Commerce. 

      CRSA said restrictions in place kept companies from offering their full capabilities to the public. In 2020, CRSA changed the way it regulated licensing for remote sensing systems, and said that the government could only restrict unique capabilities for up to three years for the government to have time to develop mitigations. 

      CRSA announced Monday that a set of conditions on “the nation’s most capable, unmatched commercial remote sensing systems” expired on July 19. It also reduced global imaging restrictions to permit imaging and distribution for everywhere except less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, removed rapid revisit conditions, and removed all X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) temporary conditions. 

      “The Department of Commerce is empowering our commercial remote sensing industry so they can compete at their full potential,” Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves said in a release. “This action cuts out significant red tape in private remote sensing systems regulation and keeps with the department’s commitment to accelerate U.S. leadership in the fast-growing commercial space industry.”

      With this change announced, SAR provider Umbra released a 16-cm resolution SAR image, calling it the highest-resolution commercial satellite image ever released. The company said it is 16-cm native resolution in the range and azimuth. 

      Umbra sells 25-cm native resolution. Although it demonstrated the 16-cm resolution, a representative for the company said it will fine-tune the product and eventually offer 16-cm products both commercially and internationally. 

      Umbra said it can expand its high-resolution data product offerings for commercial customers because of the licensing change NOAA made. 

      “The removal of the temporary license conditions by NOAA is impactful news for both Umbra and our customers,” commented Gabe Dominocielo, Umbra’s co-founder and president. “This means that we are finally able to offer customers the highest resolution images that our satellites are capable of capturing, setting the stage for even further expansion of products to customers.”