The commercial remote sensing industry has created a flood of data and the government would like the private sector to turn its attention to providing analytic services to help glean insights from the data, an official with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) said last week.
“It would be easy for me all day all day long to admire the collection systems…but I can’t get away with doing that because at the end of the day we have to answer questions and solve problems,” David Gauthier, director of commercial and business operations at NGA, said Oct. 7 at the GEOINT 2021 Symposium in St. Louis.
The NGA is the Defense Department agency responsible analyzing imagery for U.S. government users. Gauthier said his agency wants industry to provide “analyst ready analytic services” that take advantage of “massive” amounts of data already being collected by satellites operated by remote sensing companies, and apply “algorithms to get to something specific and meaningful to us.”
The data could be turned into a data feed with daily measurements, dashboards and trendlines that funnel into NGA’s “analytic workflow,” he said.
The NGA has already begun to turn to industry for this analytic help, Gauthier said.
In September, the agency awarded a $29 million, five-year operational indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract to BAE Systems, Ball Corp.’s [BLL] Ball Aerospace, BlackSky Technology [BKSY], Continental Mapping Consultants, and Royce Geospatial Consultants to compete for delivery orders to apply geospatial analytics services for insights into economic indicators worldwide.
“And the idea is we will come up with things that are economic indicators and I have a very loose definition of that because pretty much anything that moves on the planet has an economic case for it,” Gauthier said. “And we can get out of the business of manually counting those things and measuring them and instead get all that algorithmically into databases and start asking the questions of why are there changes here and what do I need to collect next to understand it better.”
Another example is the use of synthetic aperture radar imagery being collected by Finland’s ICEYE for daily monitoring of oil storage tanks. Gauthier said that NGA, with the help of Ursa Space Systems, is exploiting the satellite imagery through automated observations of 20,000 oil tanks each week and turning into a data feed and dashboard that is updated daily for users worldwide to get economic insights.
The journey to take better advantage of the remote sensing imagery being produced by companies with their own satellite constellations began in 2019 through closer collaboration between the NGA and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Gauthier said.
This partnership focused on “how we acquire the imagery we need as a community, how we turn that into analytic services, how we test and evaluate new security practices, and then really the key point now is how do we drive the whole system faster because it’s not as responsive as we need it to be,” he said.
In 2020, the intelligence community stood up the Commercial Space Council to put a focus on the broader private sector space sector and its importance to national security, Gauthier said.
Now, NGA is working on a new commercial GEOINT strategy, “And the primary takeaways from that strategy are how we need to unify our efforts to be more effective and efficient in approaching the commercial market and then really increase the adoption of these capabilities into our intelligence production, foundation production, and use them as primary sources in producing intelligence for the world,” he said.
To improve collaboration between government and industry, Gauthier said he hosted an industry day a year ago to create a “path” for companies with technologies at different levels of maturity to bring their “new and unanticipated commercial offerings” so that might meet NGA’s needs and the agency could have a better look.
Less mature technologies might get some research funding or put into partnerships with academia while more mature capabilities are put in front of users for testing and evaluation. If they fit a mission, then they can be put into a contract for orders, he said.
“We’ve done that now with different companies and capabilities that just walked in the door,” Gauthier said.
“And so, this is a little bit upending the requirements driven process which says a user has to ask for it first and now we’re saying the commercial industry understands our needs and is already bringing us things we did not anticipate,” he said.