Kleos Space operates a constellation of RF reconnaissance satellites. Credit: Kleos Space

WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office has released a request for proposals from commercial providers of space-based radio frequency (RF) imagery. 

Companies in this emerging sector of the remote sensing industry use low-orbiting satellites to track ships, vehicles or any devices that emit radio frequency signals. 

The new solicitation is part of a broad NRO program rolled out in October called Strategic Commercial Enhancements. The agency said it wants to assess how commercial RF could play in the larger signals intelligence overhead architecture.

The commercial RF data program would follow the model used by the NRO to work with commercial providers of space-based synthetic aperture radar data. The agency in January announced it signed agreements with five SAR companies, giving the NRO access to data collected by commercial satellites so government analysts can better understand the quality of commercially available imagery. 

“Much like the first focus area which was for commercial radar, this procurement represents a flexible approach for the NRO to continuously evaluate new and emerging capabilities and providers in a more streamlined acquisition fashion,” an NRO spokesman told SpaceNews July 14.

The goal is to award contracts later this summer or early fall, the spokesman said. “The number of awards depends on the number and quality of proposals we receive, but much like the first focus area for commercial radar, we anticipate to have multiple providers for assessment.”

Commercial companies that provide space-based RF data include HawkEye 360, Kleos and Spire.

The NRO does not publicly release its solicitations. Interested contractors who have registered to do business with the NRO can access the request for proposals from the Acquisition Center of Excellence Acquisition Research Center.

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...