WASHINGTON — The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is turning to the commercial satellite imagery industry for help monitoring objects in Earth’s orbit. The agency on June 12 released a request for information seeking input from companies in the emerging non-Earth imagery (NEI) market.

NEI refers to imaging spacecraft, satellites, and space debris in orbit. It’s a relatively new market for commercial satellite operators, facilitated by regulatory reforms in 2022 that lifted long-standing restrictions on U.S. companies imaging and collecting detailed data on satellites in space.

NGA said it plans to conduct market research and initiate a dialogue with industry on providing commercial NEI data and analytics to meet U.S. government and allies’ requirements for intelligence about objects in space. According to the request, the agency wants to better understand unclassified non-Earth imaging capabilities and data analytics, including imagery of uncooperative platforms.

Demand for space domain awareness

With growing orbital congestion and risks posed by potential adversaries, enhancing space situational awareness has become an imperative for national security, U.S. officials have said. With the rise of space powers like China and aggressive Russian anti-satellite weapons development, there has been an acknowledgment that the U.S. needs to tap commercial remote sensing companies for data on potentially hostile spacecraft.

NGA said leveraging commercial NEI capabilities represents an opportunity to augment existing government systems. The agency is the nation’s primary source of geospatial intelligence for the Department of Defense and the U.S. intelligence community.

Responses to the RFI are due July 12. Only U.S.-owned companies are eligible for this program.

NGA said the market research will inform an upcoming five-year procurement of non-Earth 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...