News from Future Space 2013 | Loverro: Commercial Imagery Still Critical to DoD in Wake of EnhancedView Cuts

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WASHINGTON — Despite cuts in the EnhancedView program, a top U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) official said the agency remains committed to purchasing and using commercial satellite imagery, but companies that provide such imagery should do more to diversify their customer base and not rely as heavily on government business.

“Commercial imagery is critical to the U.S., both from the DoD perspective and the industry perspective,” said Douglas Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, during a talk at the Future Space 2013 conference here. “There’s no way the DoD will field the imagery systems that it needs to collect all the imagery it requires.”

He acknowledged that cuts made to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) EnhancedView program were at least “partially responsible” for last year’s merger of the two companies that had contracts under that program, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye. “I believe this is a temporary thing,” he said of the reduced spending on EnhancedView. He blamed the overall fiscal environment, but did not indicate when spending might increase, or by how much.

Companies in this industry, he said, should make sure they do not rely primarily on government business. “If a company is going to be reliant on government investment in order to stay in business, that’s a risky proposition these days,” he said. “The more the government is part of the overall market, the more fragile the business case is.”

The commercial satellite remote sensing industry, Loverro suggested, should follow the model of the commercial satellite communications industry, which counts the DoD as just one of many government and commercial customers. “The satcom industry is not dependent on the DoD for its livelihood, and yet DoD leverages that technology significantly every day,” he said.

Loverro was optimistic about the prospects for not just the commercial remote sensing industry but also the broader aerospace industry, citing a wave of new companies entering the field. “In my mind, we’re in a second renaissance for space in the United States,” he said, driven by entrepreneurial ventures. “I see more startups today in aerospace who are being successful than I saw at any time since the 1970s.”