ST. LOUIS — The director of the National Reconnaissance Office Christopher Scolese announced Oct. 7 the agency will start buying space radar imagery from commercial providers.

“Our focus today is on innovation and commercial capabilities,” Scolese said in a keynote speech at the 2021 GEOINT Symposium. 

“I’m proud to announce the NRO’s new Broad Agency Announcement,” said Scolese. 

This BAA as a “flexible approach to an acquisition process that will allow us to evaluate, leverage, and even integrate new and emerging phenomenologies like radar, hyperspectral, and radio-frequency sensing as they become available.”

The first procurement under this BAA will be for commercial synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data. Scolese said this BAA will be released in about a month. 

The NRO buys traditional electro-optical imagery from commercial providers and will award new contracts early next year, said Scolese. He noted that the next step will be to work with providers of other types of commercial remote sensing phenomenologies.

The BAA for commercial radar will be open to the entire industry, including foreign-owned U.S. companies. “If you have technologies that fit the bill, come talk to us,” he said. 

SAR imagery is in high demand in the energy and agriculture sectors and increasingly is being used by defense and intelligence agencies. Radar sees through clouds and other atmospheric obstacles that interfere with optical satellites. 

The NRO in December 2019 awarded SAR imagery provider Capella Space a contract to experiment with the use of the company’s data and figure out the utility of the data for national security. The agency in November 2020 issued a request for information to get a better understanding of the state of the U.S. commercial radar imagery industry. 

The NRO acquires satellite data for the U.S. intelligence community, the military and homeland security agencies. 

“We’ve seen an explosion of innovation on the commercial side,” said Scolese, 

“This BAA framework will allow the NRO to rapidly explore, assess, and leverage innovative industry capabilities to meet new intelligence challenges and inform operational requirements.”

Pete Muend, director of the NRO Commercial Systems Program Office, told reporters at the GEOINT Symposium that the BAA will help the agency “to onboard new entrants, across all of the phenomenologies.”

The NRO wants to work with companies that have operational constellations but also emerging ones that are now building their systems. Muend said the BAA gives the NRO options to “provide some direct support, some direct funding for providers to do some additional things for us that may not follow the purely commercial side, to satisfy some of the unique needs that we have.”

Muend said the BAA, called “Framework for Strategic Commercial Enhancements,” will be issued for different focus areas multiple times per year.

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...