WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office awarded study contracts to six commercial providers of space-based radio frequency (RF) data, the agency announced Sept. 28.

Aurora Insight, HawkEye 360, Kleos Space, PredaSAR, Spire Global and Umbra Lab signed agreements giving the NRO access to their systems and business plans so the agency can decide what commercial data it might purchase for operational use. 

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. 

“We’ve seen increasing demand for this data source from across the user community,” said Chris Scolese, director of the NRO. These studies will help NRO better understand the capabilities of commercial RF providers and how they can solve new intelligence challenges.”

The NRO said commercial remote sensing data, by virtue of being unclassified, is a valuable source of intelligence that can be shared with U.S. allies.  “Since the early days of the Ukraine crisis, NRO’s commercial data providers have been collecting electro-optical and radar imagery as well as commercial RF data over the region,” said Pete Muend, director of the NRO’s Commercial Systems Program Office. 

The RF data vendors were selected under a broad NRO program rolled out in October called Strategic Commercial Enhancements. Five commercial radar imagery providers were selected in January. The SCE program is open to both U.S. and foreign-owned U.S. commercial providers.  

PredaSAR and Umbra Lab, which also won contracts for space radar data, develop synthetic aperture radar satellites that can also passively scan for RF activity.

Aurora Insight deploys sensors on buildings, in vehicles, on aircraft and on satellites to identify wireless network deployments.

HawkEye 360 is the first commercial company to use satellites to create radio frequency (RF) data analytics. This is the company’s second agreement with the NRO, following a 2019 commercial RF survey study contract. 

Alex Fox, chief growth officer at HawkEye 360, said the company under the new agreement will “model and simulate current and future RF-sensing capabilities, engage in live end-to-end demonstrations, conduct accuracy and quality assessments, and demonstrate overhead delivery of RF data to government fixed, transportable, and mobile ground stations around the world.”

Spire Global operates a constellation of more than 100 multipurpose satellites that monitor radio-frequency signals, including 40 satellites with geolocation capabilities that can track GPS jamming events.

Chuck Cash, Spire’s vice president of federal sales, said the NRO agreements “recognize the value of RF data as part of its commercial acquisition strategy.”

Kleos Space said it will provide “insights into how to optimize evolving commercial RF geolocation capability to enhance and augment existing capabilities.”

“This study project represents a significant opportunity for Kleos to help the NRO assess the operational and decision-making usefulness of commercial RF GEOINT,” said Kleos’ chief revenue officer Eric von Eckartsberg

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...