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Maxar's high-resolution satellite imagery collected Nov. 1, 2021, of Yelnya, Russia, reveals the presence of a large ground forces deployment to a training area on the northern edge of the town. Credit: Maxar Technologies The Electro-Optical Commercial Layer program is only open to companies that are U.S.-owned, operated, and controlled

WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office on Nov. 3 released a request for bids from U.S. commercial providers of satellite imagery. 

The agency is seeking domestic suppliers of satellite imagery under a new program called Electro-Optical Commercial Layer (EOCL). Contracts will be awarded in 2022, Pete Muend, director of the NRO’s Commercial Systems Program, said on a conference call with reporters.

The NRO is a U.S. intelligence agency that builds and operates the nation’s spy satellites, and also is the primary acquirer of commercial imagery for the U.S. government.

Contracts awarded under the EOCL will replace the current single-vendor agreement signed with Maxar Technologies, a deal that dates back to 2010. The NRO pays Maxar about $300 million a year for access to the company’s high-resolution imagery satellites and image archive. Maxar’s contract has been extended until August 2022.

Muend said the NRO collects on average about 50,000 commercial satellite images per week. He said he could not provide a funding estimate for the EOCL program but said the U.S. government’s requirements for satellite imagery are increasing and future contracts will reflect that growing demand.  

The final request for proposals (RFP) is the result of more than two years of market research, he said, including study contracts awarded in 2019 to Maxar, BlackSky and Planet. These contracts gave the NRO access to the companies’ business plans, finances and projected capacity of their satellite constellations.

The selected EOCL contractors will be required to sign “end user license agreements” so imagery can be shared across government agencies without additional licensing fees. 

The EOCL RFP is open to companies that are U.S.-owned, operated, and controlled. “This decision is based on the national space policy of the U.S. and the desire to foster greater stability and investment in the U.S. market,” the agency said.

“Global competition in commercial remote sensing is fierce, and while a growing number of U.S. companies are at the forefront, they are not alone,” said Muend. “We want to ensure that our U.S. industrial base is and remains competitive.”


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