The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) said on Sept. 28 that it has awarded study contracts for commercial radio frequency (RF) remote sensing to Denver’s Aurora Insight, Virginia-based HawkEye 360 and Spire Global Inc. [SPIR], Luxembourg’s Kleos Space [KSS], Terran Orbital‘s [LLAP] Florida-based PredaSAR, and Santa Barbara, Calif.’s Umbra Lab.

NRO Director Chris Scolese said in a Sept. 28 statement that “since the 2019 award of an integration study contract for commercial RF, we’ve seen increasing demand for this data source from across the user community.”

Scolese said that NRO continues “to work with our partners in government and the commercial sector to find new ways to build capability, agility, capacity, speed, and resilience into everything we do.”

The commercial RF awards are part of NRO’s Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) framework put in place last year with contract awards in January to five companies for commercial synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery–Capella Space, Airbus Group’s U.S. division, the U.S. division of Finland’s ICEYE, PredaSAR and Umbra Lab (Defense Daily, Apr. 26).

“Similar to the commercial radar focus area, the RF focus area was open to both U.S. and foreign-owned U.S. commercial RF providers,” the NRO said on Sept. 28. “The unclassified, shareable nature of commercial remote sensing data, including RF, makes it a valuable source for situational awareness and intelligence sharing among U.S. allies and partners.”

Even before NRO’s Sept. 28 announcement of its commercial RF awards, the agency had a commercial RF contract with HawkEye 360 to use the company’s satellites to respond to the Ukraine crisis and to help determine how commercial RF satellites could aid next-generation signals intelligence.

HawkEye 360 has five clusters of three satellites each–15 in total–in low Earth orbit and plans to have 20 clusters on orbit with an average global revisit rate of 12-20 minutes.

On Sept. 28, HawkEye 360 said that, under the new commercial RF contract that may last three years, the company “will initially model and simulate current and future RF-sensing capabilities, engage in live end-to-end demonstrations, conduct accuracy and quality assessments, and demonstrate overhead delivery of RF data to government fixed, transportable, and mobile ground stations around the world.”

“Under the contract, the customer will assess current and future capabilities and explore establishing a multi-year service level agreement to support the NRO’s evolving mission requirements,” HawkEye 360 said. 

The U.S. intelligence community, which has contracts with commercial satellite imagery providers, has been providing

imagery from these companies to Ukraine to help the nation defeat the Russian assault, which began on Feb. 24 (Defense Daily, Aug. 18). Before Russia’s unprovoked war, the U.S. government worked with commercial satellite companies to highlight Russia’s intentions to invade Ukraine and make it difficult for Russia to create any false pretexts to justify its invasion.

“As evidenced by the quality and quantity of commercial data flowing to our partners and allies, commercial remote sensing is a mainstay not only for security and intelligence applications but also for helping to manage humanitarian crises,” Pete Muend, director of NRO’s commercial systems program office, said in NRO’s Sept. 28 statement. “Since the early days of Ukraine crisis, NRO’s commercial data providers have been collecting electro-optical and radar imagery as well as commercial RF data over the region.”