This is a compressed preview image of oil tanks in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The ICEYE Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite image was originally acquired at a resolution of 25 centimeters. Credit: Iceye

WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office on Oct. 12 published its first solicitation for commercial space radar imagery.

The request for bids is part of a larger effort to tap commercial sources of space data announced last week by NRO Director Christopher Scolese.

The program, called Broad Agency Announcement Framework for Strategic Commercial Enhancements, was described by Scolese as a more agile approach to acquire emerging remote sensing phenomenologies, such as commercial radar, hyperspectral imagery and radio frequency mapping.

The NRO separately is buying traditional satellite imagery from commercial suppliers under a new procurement called Electro-Optical Commercial Layer.

The first BAA for commercial synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery is significant because it’s open to U.S. domestic industry as well as to foreign owned U.S. companies. A recent survey found that the United States is lagging behind other countries in commercial remote sensing capabilities, including SAR. However, foreign-owned companies are not eligible for the Electro-Optical Commercial Layer procurement. 

Interest in SAR satellite imagery is growing at defense and intelligence agencies for monitoring and to augment the insights acquired through visual imagery. SAR sees through clouds and other atmospheric obstacles that interfere with optical satellites. 

Jeremy Banik, deputy director of the NRO Commercial Systems Program Office, said last week at the GEOINT Symposium that the commercial remote sensing market is a “very important market to the United States. We at the NRO certainly recognize that actions we take and decisions that drive our acquisitions do have an impact on that market.”

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...