ST. LOUIS — When analysts at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency need information about what’s going on in the world, they have to plough through large volumes of satellite imagery and other data.

“That’s the old way of doing business,” said David Gauthier, director of NGA’s commercial and business operations group. 

In the future the agency will seek to tap into the burgeoning commercial analytic services market, Gauthier told SpaceNews on the sidelines of the 2021 GEOINT Symposium. 

“We’ve been focusing more and more on analytics services,” he said. The vision is for NGA analysts to have the geospatial intelligence equivalent of a Bloomberg terminal.

“Bloomberg scrapes all this financial data from the entire world, and creates a very elegant delivery system to someone who is making decisions,” said Gauthier. “This approach is a departure from just buying images and giving them to our analysts.”

An example of how NGA wants to do business is the recent award of a five-year contract to five vendors for analytic insights on economic activity and trends around the world, such as the flow of raw materials, agricultural products, fuels and vehicles.

The five vendors — BAE Systems, Ball Aerospace, BlackSky, Continental Mapping Consultants and Royce Geospatial Consultants — will compete for $29 million worth of task orders.

NGA has to transition away from government analysts exploiting raw imagery to commercial analytic services that can quickly provide answers, said Gauthier.

Access to commercial imagery

The next step in NGA’s adoption of commercial services is to ensure its analytic service providers have full access to the unclassified imagery procured by the National Reconnaissance Office. 

Gauthier’s office on Sept. 30 issued a request for information for “web-based commercial imagery and product discovery, visualization, exploitation, and delivery solutions.”

The idea is to have a commercial geoint portal that would be accessed by the government and by the analytics companies working under NGA contracts. 

Gauthier said the commercial portal would be the next version of the Global Enhanced Geoint Delivery (G-EGD) program currently performed by Maxar Technologies. The company this week won a $44 million contract option from NGA to continue the service until September 2022.

A future portal would augment what G-EGD does by providing broader access to imagery from Maxar and any other providers that sell imagery to the government, he said. “We intend for our analytics providers to get free access to government procured imagery to create products for us.”

“We need industry’s best ideas on how we would build something like this,” said Gauthier. “This will inform an acquisition that will likely happen in 2023 for a 2024 start.”

The National Reconnaissance Office is expected to add new commercial imagery vendors under a new procurement expected to get under way in the coming months. “In the future we want more people producing more unclassified analytics,” said Gauthier. “We’ve given the NRO more requirements for more commercial imagery.”

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...