$7bn for Intelligence Imaging Satellite Development

The next generation of hi-res satellite imaging technology is on the way, at least if the United States government has anything to say about it. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency has awarded satellite imaging firms GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, which provide images for Google and Microsoft among others, contracts upwards of $3.5 billion each to help them get the next wave of imaging technology into the sky.

Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe was given a $3.55 billion 10-year contract, to be paid out in annual installments. Virginia-based GeoEye, whose high-res photos have often been featured on PopSci.com, got the same terms on an even richer $3.8 billion contract. For that kind of cash, the government won’t be accepting incremental improvements.

The NGA — the organ of state responsible for the collection of military and intelligence satellite imagery — wants next-gen technologies with higher-res capabilities as part of its EnhancedView program, an initiative to improve the military/intelligence community’s imaging capability. To that end, DigitalGlobe already issued a statement that it will immediately get cracking on its next satellite, WorldView-3, which could launch in 2014. GeoEye’s third-gen satellite, GeoEye-2, should be operational by 2013.

But the hardware isn’t actually the most costly portion of the contracts. Both agreements stipulate that $2.8 billion of the sum offered is for photos that will be provided to the government over the course of the contract. The balance of each deal is for additional services, infrastructure upgrades, new hardware and the like.

But unlike most massive government contracts, the little guy can expect to see some kind value out of the deal. Though obviously the best high-res imagery goes to the highest bidder (the NGA), both GeoEye and DigitalGlobe provide images for commercial mapping services as well, and better satellites should lead to better publicly available satellite imagery too.

Source: Pop Sci

Will they really be able to read a license plate, or ID an individual from orbit?

What could be the major improvements these satellites will have to offer, well I dont know, but below is a recent article that describes what DARPA is currently looking to develop.

It is a satellite that will deliver real time video.

If we’ve learned something these last couple of years, it’s that the warfighter wants video. But what if you can’t fly a UAV over hostile territory? How about real-time, tactical video from a satellite in geosynchronous orbit? That’s the objective of a new US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program – Membrane Optic Imager Real-time Explotation, or MOIRE.

MOIRE is looking to develop large, lightweight, deployable diffractive membrane optics – basically a wafer-thin lens that unfurls in space – for a geosynchronous imaging satellite. The goal is to fly a 10-meter membrane in Phase 3 of the program, to demonstrate the technology for an operational 20-meter system capable of providing visible-wavelength imagery of “denied areas”.

blog post photo

Concept: L’Garde

According to DARPA, an operational satellite would be able to image an area of more than 100km² at least once a second, with “NIIRS 3.5+” performance – which equates to a ground resolution better than 2.5 meters, enough to identify aircraft, ships, helipads, radars and other key features. DARPA also wants to be able to detect vehicles moving at highway speeds.

Low cost is another goal, but with a “not-to-exceed” cost target of $500 million a copy, a geosynchronous real-time imaging satellite will be far from cheap. DARPA, meanwhile, has scheduled a MOIRE proposers’ day for interested bidders on March 12 in Washington.


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