DENVER – U.S. defense and intelligence agencies have growing needs for satellite imagery and data analytics services, and the government needs to be better equipped to match requirements with commercially available technology, said Frank Avila, commercial and business operations deputy director at the National Geospatial-intelligence Agency.

“We are putting in place a new process where we are asking the community what are the requirements that they have for commercial solutions,” Avila said in an interview at the GEOINT Symposium.

Avila said NGA has increased its own demand for commercial geospatial data and analytics, which is the analysis of raw data to make conclusions and draw insights from the information. 

Last year the agency awarded $29 million to five commercial companies to extract insights on economic activity and trends around the world using geospatial data. 

NGA also is using commercial radar data from Capella Space and Iceye, two of the five companies that the National Reconnaissance Office signed agreements with last year in an effort to tap into the growing commercial market for synthetic aperture radar data from satellites. Once the NRO selects imagery providers, it’s the NGA’s job to validate their data, said Avila.

“We build the trust and confidence in that solution and the accuracy of their measurements before we start consuming that product,” he said. 

Avila said he expects U.S. intelligence agencies to start buying data analytics from commercial firms that use satellites to monitor the effects of climate change

“We want to be able to monitor emissions of methane gas and carbon dioxide, for example, on a global scale,” he said. “We would not be buying raw data. We’re looking at companies that already are doing that kind of business.”

A challenge ahead for NGA is to streamline demands for data analytics so procurements are not duplicated, said Avila. 

“We are going to start collecting requirements from across the NSG,” he said. 

The NSG, short for national system for geospatial intelligence, includes all the agencies in the intelligence community, the Defense Department, civilian agencies and foreign allies that consume geospatial intelligence. 

The plan is for NGA to work more closely with geospatial intelligence buyers within each agency so their needs can be better supported with the latest commercial technologies, said Avila. 

“We need to really start collaborating and coordinating procurements of commercial solutions, and think of commercial as the first solution that we should be looking at, rather than government developed solutions,” he said. 

NASA, for example, has its own commercial procurement program and is buying “similar kinds of imagery as what we’re buying,” said Avila. “We’re talking with that group over at NASA to ensure that if we’re interested in similar kinds of data sources, that we coordinate our procurements. Again, we want to avoid duplicating purchases.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...