Maxar image posted Sept. 11, 2023, of New York City and One World Trade Center. Credit: Maxar Technologies

SAN FRANCISCO — In a dramatic expansion of the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program, NASA announced Oct. 2 that seven companies will compete for contracts with a maximum value of $476 million over five years.

Airbus DS Geo, Capella Space, GHGSat, Maxar, PlanetiQ, Spire Global and Umbra were selected under the fixed-price, indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract to provide Earth observation data and services. The contract includes an option to extend services for an additional six months.

NASA established a Commercial SmallSat Data Acquisition pilot program in 2017 to see whether commercial observations could augment or complement government datasets. Once the space agency realized the datasets were valuable, contracting mechanisms and licensing agreements were established to ensure ongoing access.

In the past, NASA has purchased commercial Earth observation data from Maxar, Planet, Spire and Teledyne Brown Engineering. In addition, NASA purchases high-resolution Digital Elevation Models produced by the EarthDEM Project, a collaboration that includes the University of Minnesota’s Polar Geospatial Center, Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar Research Center, and the University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and based on Maxar satellite data.

NASA’s Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program is provides data for NASA’s Earth science research and application activities. NASA is particularly eager to obtain “data acquired by commercial satellite constellations, affording the means of complementing NASA’s Earth observations data with higher resolutions, increased temporal frequency or other novel capabilities,” according to the NASA news release.

Early in the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program, NASA struggled with end user license agreements that constrained data sharing with other government agencies and international partners. Under the new contract, NASA will acquire data under “end user license agreements to enable broad levels of dissemination and shareability of the commercial data,” according to the news release.

Under a separate $18.5 million contract, NASA extended its purchase agreement for Planet Earth imagery through 2024. The contract gives researchers funded by U.S. civil agencies and agency employees access to PlanetScope, imagery captured by more than 130 satellites in Planet’s Dove constellation.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...