The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is the U.S. intelligence organization in charge of producing, launching, and operating the nation’s spy satellites. It is also the federal government’s principal source of commercial imagery. In the coming months, the government plans to start the Electro-Optical Commercial Layer (EOCL) program, an open competition for satellite imagery products. The NRO released a preliminary solicitation for the EOCL acquisition in June. The Defense Department and the U.S. intelligence community are reviewing a final request for proposals, which should be released by the end of the year, according to an NRO spokeswoman.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency inked a single-supplier agreement with DigitalGlobe, which is now Maxar Technologies, more than a decade ago. Under this new imagery acquisition, the NRO wants to buy products from several suppliers, moving beyond the present single-supplier structure. The NGA delegated commercial imagery buying to the NRO in 2017. However, the NGA continues to be the primary consumer of commercial geospatial data analyses.
The NRO is anticipated to choose at least three American vendors and design the program with onramps for the new providers. Vendors will also be required to sign “end-user license agreements” so that imagery can be shared among government departments without incurring additional licensing expenses. “We restructured our next-generation commercial deals to incorporate pricing that promotes innovation and the development of new capabilities,” NRO Director Christopher Scolese stated at the 36th Space Symposium in Colorado on August 24.
The EOCL program will primarily acquire imagery for military use, but it will also acquire imagery to assist civilian agencies in monitoring natural disasters, crop production, and climate change. “Today’s business partners now supply imaging as a service, allowing us to concentrate on the more difficult jobs,” Scolese explained.
ENHANCEDVIEW will be replaced by EOCL.
Under the EnhancedView contract, Maxar Technologies is the NRO’s exclusive commercial high-resolution satellite imagery source. The arrangement dates back to 2010 when the NGA chose two imaging providers: DigitalGlobe and GeoEye. Government financial cuts forced the NGA to decrease its photography budget by half by 2012. Following that, the value of EnhancedView was cut from over $7 billion to around $3.5 billion, resulting in the merging of the two firms under the name DigitalGlobe.
For access to the old Digital Globe’s WorldView-3, WorldView-1, WorldView-2, and GeoEye-1 satellites, and the company’s image archive, the NRO pays Maxar $300 million every year. The 10-year EnhancedView contract was meant to end in 2020, but when NRO took over the administration of the deal, it included three one-year options for around $300 million each. The agency has so far exercised 2 one-year options on the contract, extending it through August 2022.