hange has been a big constant at the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) ever since it was created in 1996 by the merger of several military and intelligence organizations that process, analyze

and distribute geospatial data.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the NGA began reorganizing its bureaucracy for war and launched an infrastructure overhaul that

still is under way. The agency also has assumed an expanded role in domestic security and disaster response – exemplified by its support to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts – while adopting new tools such as commercial satellite imagery.

By the time U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Robert B. Murrett took over as NGA director in July 2006, more change was in the offing: The year before, the U.S. Defense Department’s independent Base Realignment and Closure commission directed that the NGA consolidate and relocate its Washington-area operations to Fort Belvoir near Springfield, Va. Murrett is busy with preparations for the move; groundbreaking for the new facility took place Sept. 25, and the transition is slated for completion by September 2011.

also is hard at work on defining the NGA’s future relationship with the commercial satellite imaging industry, and is digesting the recommendations of a report on that subject prepared by independent

intelligence consultant Peter Marino

. On Sept. 18, one of the NGA’s two principal commercial providers, DigitalGlobe, launched WorldView-1, which along with GeoEye‘s planned GeoEye-1 satellite

was financed in part by the agency’s NextView program. GeoEye-1 is slated to launch early next year.

spoke recently with Space News Deputy Editor Warren Ferster.

What does the launch of WorldView-1 mean for the NGA?

The WorldView-1 satellite, with its improved resolution, agility and capacity, will facilitate even broader applications across our diverse community of geospatial-intelligence analysts, military forces, coalition partners and others.

Does the NGA plan to directly finance commercial imaging satellites beyond WorldView-1 and GeoEye-1?

As you know, we asked Peter Marino to conduct a study in terms of our future engagement with the commercial remote sensing industry. He has completed that study. As is the case with most of those kinds of things, there are a couple of different courses of action in there.

The study

provides a couple of different options for

how we engage industry in terms of whether you buy pixels, whether you actually pay up

front costs for platforms – essentially, the options that exist in a lot of different spheres, not just the commercial remote sensing industry.

When will you decide on which course to take?

The decision

already has been made that we will have a vigorous and close relationship with commercial remote sensing for as far out as I can see.

I think certainly as we ramp up our next program built

here over the course of the next spring and certainly into the summer there will be more definition in terms of what our engagement with industry will look like.

Can you describe the impact on NGA operations, if any, of the loss earlier this year of GeoEye’s OrbView-3 satellite?

We are more than ever very much spread out across the spectrum of collection assets that we can leverage. Because of that the impact of losing any one specific sensor – whether it’s airborne, national, commercial, international partners and so forth – is less than it would have been even in the recent past. That is something that we have put a lot of effort into really just in the last six months or so.

You have said the NGA plans to make greater use of non-U.S. imaging assets in the future. How will that work?

There are ways, and that is a growth industry for us. We are far more vigorously engaged on the international front across the range of missions that NGA has than is popularly perceived, primarily in the areas of mapping, charting and geodesy. We have a program called the Multinational Geospatial Co-production Program, which is the international structure that we use for production of geospatial products. All of the international sensors can be an important component of spreading your bets and having a pretty broad array of redundant sensors that you can call upon in case there are any outages for any one specific sensor.

Are non-U.S. data sources useful primarily for applications that are not time-sensitive?

It is more straightforward for us to use international assets for less time-sensitive functions. Although there are certain foreign sensors – and I would use the Canadian Radarsat as an example. It has pretty exceptional capability and in its own fairly sophisticated way is an active sensor from space. But the short answer to the question you pose is ‘


‘ Hopefully that won’t be the case in the future and we’re getting better and better all the time at cooperative arrangements with foreign partners to ingest their data in a timely fashion.

Should U.S. government satellites focus exclusively on the very difficult missions and leave routine mapping to commercial satellites?

There’s an ongoing debate in terms of the types of sensors that we put our resources into – as there has been since the beginning of the space program in the 1960s. I don’t know if the two categories are really mutually exclusive. You can have high-end sensors that are more rather than less government in terms of their identification that

also can do a broad array of functions. By the same token you can have medium-resolution commercial sensors and actually do some fairly important mission sets.

As the technology develops you’ll see a fair amount more overlap than potentially you’ve seen in the past

, especially as we go to some platforms that will probably be in orbit here in the next five or 10 years.

Does the renewed focus on ground systems at the

National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

blur the distinction between that agency and yours?

Not at all.
The NRO does a lot on the ground in terms of being able to harness all the data they possibly can from their space sensors, and there is still a very clear understanding between NRO and NGA of the relative missions and functions, with us emphasizing analysis and providing the data to the customers that we have around the world.

How quickly can the NGA get satellite data to soldiers in the field


I can’t get into specifics, but we’re a lot more persistent than we were as recently as a few years ago. I can tell you that we can provide things certainly on the same day from accesses that would happen several times during the course of a 24-hour period.

Are you concerned about getting swamped by requests for domestic imagery products from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s planned National Applications Office?

All of us are in the business of balancing our resources. But I’m not too concerned about being overwhelmed by domestic requests. As the agency did so well during Hurricane Katrina, we can meet the tasks pretty effectively.

Can you bring me up to date on NGA’sGeoScout infrastructure overhaul effort?

The GeoScout Block 2 program is proceeding apace. But as time goes on, increasingly the discussion needs to be about our overall Geospatial-intelligence Reference Architecture, the GRA, and less about GeoScout, which is but one component of it. Block 3 went away when the decision was made to move to the new installation, the campus at Springfield.

How will you avoid service disruptions during the move?

There are two key answers. The first and the biggest one is the Arnold Building in Arnold, M


, which is our primary hub for our IT products and services and will be so well through the transition. That is deliberate. That was done because of the fact that we’re shifting here.

The second big consideration is that we’re actually not going to be moving much of the gear that currently exists here in Bethesda or in Reston or down at Washington Navy Yard when we shift to our new building in Springfield, in a little under four years.

There will be continuity here in the East as well. But the short answer is the primary data center that we have at the Arnold Building in St. Louis, and that will be the swing during the time of transition here.

Will you be abandoning infrastructure that was modernized under GeoScout Block 1?

Most of GeoScout 1 is actually in the Arnold Building.

What are the relative portions of NGA resources dedicated to supporting strategic v

s. tactical

military customers?

They overlap. Some of the tactical-level support that we’re doing now is in fact strategic, certainly against al

Qaida. It’s very difficult to say.

See extended version of profile at www.spacenews.com