WASHINGTON — Under a recent deal signed with the U.S. Space Development Agency, Capella Space will attempt to connect one of the company’s imaging satellites to SDA’s network of satellites in low Earth orbit. 

Establishing data pipes in space for commercial imagery providers to pass data to government customers could be a win-win, SDA Director Derek Tournear said Nov. 16 at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event. 

This would benefit military users who want to tap into the commercial Earth observation imagery marketplace, said Tournear, For the industry, “it gives them a completely new path to market.”

Capella’s and SDA’s satellites will be connected via a Mynaric laser communications terminal. “We’re working with them so that they can plug in directly into our transport layer,” said Tournear. 

The imagery provided by Capella is from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites. Tournear said SDA would like to sign similar deals with other suppliers of various types of imagery. “We would love to do that with all commercial providers,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot of security constraints there, and we have to figure out the right way to make that handshake and make that work.”

To do business with SDA, imagery providers will have to install SDA-approved optical inter-satellite links on their satellites. The data would be passed to SDA’s Transport Layer, a mesh network of communications satellites in low Earth orbit projected to start launching in 2022.

This gives industry the option of sending data “directly into the Transport Layer, directly to the user, it’s another offering that they can use to sell their data,” Tournear said. Military customers “would pay that commercial company either by the data stream or have some kind of subscription service.”

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...