PARIS — Earth observation imagery provider DigitalGlobe reported increased revenue for the first three months of 2010 compared with the previous three-month period and said contracts with non-U.S. partners and commercial customers were responsible for much of the growth.

While Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe continues to rely on the U.S. government for most of its business, mainly through a service contract with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the company is signing on non-U.S. partners who will have ground facilities permitting direct access to DigitalGlobe’s newest satellite, WorldView-2, which entered operations in January.

The company has signed three so-called Direct Access Partners. Negotiations with a fourth are completed, with operations to begin in the coming weeks, and a fifth is likely to be signed up by the end of June. In a May 4 conference call with investors, DigitalGlobe Chief Financial Officer Yancey L. Spruill said the three existing partners accounted for $5 million in revenue for the three months ending March 31.

By late this year, Spruill said, DigitalGlobe expects to have signed partnerships that will account for annual revenue of $35 million. Ultimately, the company expects between five and seven Direct Access Partners to be providing $50 million in annual revenue.

Spruill said three of the four Direct Access Partners signed so far provide a similar level of revenue, with the fourth, which began service in the first three months of 2010, providing 3.5 times the annual revenue. DigitalGlobe signed on with European Space Imaging GmbH of Munich, Germany, this year. A facility to directly access the WorldView satellites has been installed in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, and is operated with the German Aerospace Center, DLR.

Under its Direct Access Partner contracts, DigitalGlobe sells a preset number of minutes of access to its satellites and receives a flat fee in return. Direct tasking of the WorldView-1 has been almost fully booked by NGA under a service contract called NextView, which generates $12.5 million in monthly revenue to DigitalGlobe. But WorldView-1 contributes to DigitalGlobe’s image library, which accounts for most of the company’s sales to commercial customers.

NGA has a similar contract with DigitalGlobe competitor GeoEye of Dulles, Va., and is weighing a fresh contract vehicle, called EnhancedView, that is tentatively scheduled to replace NextView by the middle of this year.

DigitalGlobe Chief Executive Jill D. Smith said NGA continues to use WorldView-1 for the NextView contract and has not yet ordered images from WorldView-2, which offers high-resolution color imagery in eight spectral bands.

During the conference call, Smith said the company expects NGA will become a regular customer for WorldView-2 once the EnhancedView contract is signed. She declined to speculate on what the EnhancedView contract might look like, and specifically whether it might cause DigitalGlobe to accelerate its scheduled satellite-replacement plan. The current plan is for the company to begin spending on a new satellite in 2012 or 2013. Its oldest satellite, QuickBird, was launched in October 2001. WorldView-1 was launched in September 2007 and WorldView-2 in October 2009.
To preserve WorldView-2 direct-tasking ability for the NGA’s new contract, DigitalGlobe has decided to limit the total amount of WorldView-2 capacity reserved for its Direct Access Partners to a maximum of 25 percent of the satellite’s resources over a given geographical area.

With WorldView-2 fully operational and providing both more images and more-frequent revisits, DigitalGlobe has introduced a program to guarantee to customers that the imagery they have ordered from direct tasking of satellites would be completed within a 45-day collection window.

Smith said that since the program began, DigitalGlobe has filled more than 80 percent of its orders for new imagery within 12 days, and 99 percent within the 45-day limit. “We believe this sets a new bar for the industry,” she said.

For the three months ending March 31, DigitalGlobe reported revenue of $77.1 million, an increase of 5.8 percent over the last three months of 2009 despite the fact that NGA orders remained flat during the period. The company reiterated its forecast that full-year 2010 revenue would be between $330 million and $360 million, subject to the signing of an EnhancedView contract with NGA.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.