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13 Oct 2022

Spy satellite agency NRO awards RF geolocation study contracts to 6 companies

The National Reconnaissance Office has kicked off a pilot program to collect data from satellites that track emitters of radio frequency signals — a long-awaited extension of the spy sat agency’s commercial data gathering portfolio.

NRO today announced that Aurora Insight, HawkEye 360, Kleos Space, PredaSAR, Spire Global and Umbra Lab have won awards under NRO’s Strategic Commercial Enhancement’s (SCE) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) Framework. Of the group, Luxembourg-based Kleos is the only non-US founded firm, although the company has a US subsidiary in Denver. 

“The contracts will have a 6-month base period of performance, with two 24-month options and additional options to extend further. Designed with low barriers to entry to accommodate emerging providers, we anticipate the initial value of each contract to be about $300K but they can quickly be scaled to much higher values as mission value, customer requirements, and on-orbit provider capabilities are confirmed,” a NRO spokesperson told Breaking Defense.

Radio frequency geolocation satellites work by detecting the sources of RF emissions on Earth. For example, they can pinpoint the location of GPS jammers, as well as the Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals used by ships to identify themselves and broadcast their location.

The spy sat agency’s Commercial Systems Program Office had expected to announce the awards this summer, following a first study contract in 2019 with RF geolocation provider Hawkeye 360, headquartered in Virginia. The company has been providing NRO with RF geolocation data to keep tabs on Ukraine.

Under the new contract, Hawkeye 360 “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,” a company press release today explained. The other firms will be doing similar activities under the study contracts.

“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,” Chris Scolese, director of the NRO, said in the agency’s press release.

The RF geolocation contracts follow NRO programs to glean more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data from operators of electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites. The effort to ingest commercial data has been encouraged by lawmakers as a way both to support US satellite firms and expand the amount of ISR data available to warfighters.

Further, unclassified commercial remote sensing data can be shared more widely with US allies and partners.

“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, explained in NRO’s release.

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