NRO awards contract to Capella Space, HawkEye 360

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has awarded data integration study contracts to a Capella Space and HawkEye 360 on December 11, marking the agency’s latest efforts to embrace emerging capabilities and plug them into an integrated architecture using national and commercial assets.

“The NRO is interested in better understanding the current capabilities of a variety of commercial vendors and assessing how those capabilities could potentially support the NRO’s national security mission,” said Pete Muend, director of the NRO Commercial Systems Program Office. “With these two contracts, we are exploring the integration of commercial SAR and RF in ordering and imagery delivery into the NRO architecture.”

Capella Space is building a constellation of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites and has secured venture funding to build and launch its first 7 satellites.  SAR can effectively “see” through clouds, darkness, and bad weather to provide imagery under most conditions.  Radar imagery is valuable for intelligence analysis, battlefield reconnaissance, and land and ocean monitoring. 

While NRO owns and operates its own SAR satellites, such spacecraft are “exquisite” billion-dollar assets. Capella Space plans to build a constellation 36 small satellites to provide imagery anywhere on the planet within an hour, with resolution of under a meter.

HawkEye 360 is in the process of building a commercial radio frequency (RF) remote sensing constellation.  RF remote sensing can identify and geolocate everything from ship-based AIS systems to cell towers and active radars, making it ideal to track troop movements.

NRO’s integration study contracts will enable the agency to evaluate HawkEye 360 and Capella Space capabilities to meet NRO requirements.  Commercial constellations can provide broad area coverage of the world with fast revisit times, providing better and more complete situational awareness.   They can also be used to “tip and que” NRO’s exquisite satellites towards areas of interest.

The contracts to Capella Space and HawkEye 360 join commercial imagery studies previously awarded by NRO to Black Sky, HySpacIQ, Maxar Technologies, and Planet.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *