NASA Awards SmallSat Contracts

Image: Capella

NASA is scaling up its number of eyes in space after announcing a new slate of partnerships with the commercial smallsat crew on Monday. The seven contracts are worth up to $476M collectively and will procure imagery and data across the Earth’s surface in a variety of wavelengths and observation styles over the next five years.

The awardees: 

  • Airbus DS Geo, an Airbus subsidiary collecting optical imagery
  • Capella Space, an SF-based startup with a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) constellation
  • GHGSat, a greenhouse gas emissions monitoring startup using hyperspectral sensors
  • Maxar Intelligence, which spans optical and SAR imagery
  • PlanetIQ, which tracks weather using a GPS-radio occultation (RO) technique
  • Spire Global ($SPIR), operating radio frequency (RF) sats to track maritime, weather, and aviation patterns
  • Umbra Lab, a super-high-res SAR company

NASA’s seven contract recipients received their awards through the agency’s Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program. Under this program, researchers and scientists who follow the companies’ user agreements will be able to gain access to a new and wide-spanning batch of data to pull from.

The upshot: NASA has been slowly handing the reins of data collection to commercial sensors over the last decade. This batch of contracts is the latest to bring “higher resolutions, increased temporal frequency or other novel capabilities” to the agency’s own data, according to the NASA release. 

The shift to procuring higher-quality observations from the commercial sector rather than trying to collect it in house is only expected to increase as the agency’s legacy missions retire.

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