The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) plans to select multiple providers of radio frequency (RF) data collected by commercial satellites to provide government analysts access to unclassified data collected by commercial satellites, an agency official said on Aug. 25.

During an online event hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, Pete Muend, director of NRO’s Commercial Systems Program Office, said that the agency received several proposals following a solicitation issued in July 2022. The agency plans to sign several study contract agreements allowing NRO access to RF data collected by commercial providers.

“We want to be able to understand where the commercial remote sensing capabilities are and help inform operational capabilities and eventually requirements in the long-term,” Muend said.

Muend said the contracts are also part of an effort by NRO to work out how to integrate commercial data into the government ground system. The study contracts would be the second round of contracts awarded by NRO this year.

In January 2022, the agency selected five commercial providers of synthetic aperture radar imagery for study contracts – Airbus, Capella Space, ICEYE, PredaSAR, and Umbra.

According to Muend, the goal is that the study contracts will inform NRO of available capabilities leading to long-term contracts. To date, the agency has signed 10-year deals with three commercial imagery providers – BlackSky, Maxar, and Planet – but has not awarded similar contracts to other commercial providers.

NRO, Muend said, is trying to build a hybrid environment of government and commercial remote sensing satellites, but said it’s a complex task.

“There are a lot of parts that go into making that architecture operationally effective,” Muend said.

The goal is to take the best total value from national and commercial systems to deliver insight and intelligence, he explained. In this effort, NRO is integrating data into ground systems – which is a big part of the work the agency has underway.

“It’s one thing to have contracts in place to get the data, but making it work as part of a larger hybrid enterprise is a key part,” Muend said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.