NASA to buy more commercial Earth observation data

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SAN FRANCISCO – NASA will continue to buy Earth observation data gathered by commercial satellite constellations in the wake of a pilot program, said Kevin Murphy, program executive for NASA’s Earth Science Data System.

NASA wants to obtain more data from Maxar and Planet satellites after determining the information was of sufficient quality and utility, Murphy said Dec. 10 at the American Geophysical Union conference here. The space agency is continuing to evaluate Spire Global data.

NASA announced plans in 2018 to purchase Earth science data from Maxar, Planet and Spire. The space agency asked principal investigators to evaluate the utility of data and imagery for advancing Earth system science research.

Key questions were, “Can we do new stuff? Or can we do the stuff we already do better with this information,” Murphy said.

The imagery and data were useful but restrictive licenses were a sticking point. Under the pilot program, NASA obtained data through scientific case licenses with restrictions on publication.

“Standard scientific collaborations were inhibited by the license agreement,” Murphy said. “Being able to share information and collaborate is highly important.”

NASA plans to purchase additional data under standard scientific use licences. That may mean NASA is not able to purchase as much data as it could with more restrictive licenses but the change is “necessary both for our ability to manage the interactions with principal investigators and their expectations,” Murphy said.

NASA is establishing a process to bring additional vendors into the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition program.

“We’re going to continuously offer opportunities to on-ramp new vendors,” Murphy said. “This will happen every year to year and a half.”

In addition to Maxar, Planet and Spire, NASA is obtaining Earth imagery and data from Teledyne Brown Engineering from the DLR Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer, a hyperspectral imager mounted on the exterior of the International Space Station.

“We’ve agreed in the last week or so that we’re going to have unlimited access to those products for a period about year and a half, including about 50 percent of the tasking capability,” Murphy said.