The NGA intends to undertake a yearly survey of global Earth imagery leaders

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency intends to conduct an annual evaluation of commercial satellite imagery, similar to the one it conducted earlier this year for the Olympics. “We anticipate to see 500 remote sensing satellites launched into space each year over the next four to five years,” Dave Gauthier, director of NGA’s Commercial and Business Operations Group, stated October 7 at GEOINT 2021 Symposium. “The capacity and kinds of functionality we can get commercially are going to change dramatically.”

Gauthier’s team was inspired by the Olympics to award silver, gold, and bronze medals to countries with the best commercial imagery offerings in 9 categories: panchromatic resolution, electro-optical persistence, synthetic-aperture radar (SAR), mid-wave infrared, multispectral imaging, shortwave infrared, SAR persistence, video, and hyperspectral imaging.

While many of those in the intelligence community was aware of foreign firms’ dominant role in commercial imagery collection, the outcomes of first annual evaluation surprised some. “We expected Maxar’s Worldview-3 system to get the world’s best resolution, and it does,” Gauthier said. “Because European countries have dominated SAR for decades, we expected them to continue to do so.” “Yes, they do.”

However, the competition revealed that Iceye of Finland had the highest SAR revisit rate, as well as Capella Space of the United States, had the highest SAR resolution. “The smallsat SAR community has been upsetting the status quo,” Gauthier explained. Another surprise, according to Gauthier, was “how quickly China propagated their low Earth-orbiting electro-optical constellations.” “They have excellent video systems.” They have a high return rate.” Argentina won the gold medal for the multispectral imagery all thanks to Satellogic, which was a pleasant surprise.

“It’s absolutely vital to have partners and allies with you to supplement your strengths with their strengths,” Gauthier said as a key takeaway from competition. This competition also demonstrated that, because anyone can obtain commercial data and imagery, the competitive advantage will come from converting data into analytic insights, according to Gauthier. The Olympic medal results surprised some policymakers in the United States, who believed that American companies were at the forefront of Earth imagery acquisition, according to Gauthier.

Many policymakers inquired about how the NGA could assist the US industry in winning the worldwide Earth-observation competition after seeing the standings. The Commercial Space Council of the Intelligence Community is looking into it, according to Gauthier. Meanwhile, NGA officials are figuring out how to get new commercial datasets and later turn them into the analytic services in the most efficient way possible. Their findings will be compiled into a single document outlining the US government’s commercial geospatial intelligence tactic. The “need to unify our attempts to be more efficient and effective in advancing the commercial market” will be a key component of the strategy, according to Gauthier. The need to “boost the implementation of these functionalities into our intelligence manufacturing and utilize them as basic sources in generating intelligence for the warfighter” will also be highlighted, according to Gauthier.

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