US: After beating out contenders like UrtheCast, Orbital Insight and Sky Hawk Drone Services, Planet has won a second contract to provide satellite imagery to the U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA).
For the first year, the seven-month pilot contract began in September worth USD 20 million, whereas for this year, the contract worth USD 14 million for Planet’s persistence and global coverage capabilities.
According to NGA, none of the other companies it considered could offer an imagery subscription service with a high enough revisit rate on a global basis. NGA said the agency requires the ability to monitor changes across large geographic areas for humanitarian and intelligence missions.
“Monitoring sources that collect imagery at medium resolution (3-7 meters) at a cadence of weekly or better can satisfy the requirements of making assessments of certain [redacted] intelligence problems, including food security forecasting, [redacted] installation or infrastructure development, military preparedness [redacted] economic forecasting by measuring inventories, and other observations that can be made from analyzing changes over time. In addition, medium resolution monitoring sources improves NGA’s ability to maintain current shoreline data and assess whether foundation products require updating,” the agency said in an unclassified document released July 20.
Planet’s constellation of remote-sensing cubesats, called Doves, is currently the largest constellation in orbit. The NGA document described the constellation as 160 satellites with 120 active, but Planet spokesperson Trevor Hammond told SpaceNews July 20 that the operator’s current fleet numbers 190 satellites, 142 of which are actively imaging; the remaining 48 are still being integrated into the fleet after launching on a Soyuz rocket last week.
Dove cubesats have an average resolution of 3.7 meters. The Planet fleet also includes seven larger SkySat satellites from its acquisition of Terra Bella and five RapidEye satellites from BlackBridge.
Planet has 23 operational ground stations to communicate with its constellation and receive collected imagery. A ground station completed in northern Canada earlier this year is facing protracted licensing delays, prompting the company to look elsewhere for other sites while awaiting an outcome.
Of Planet’s competitors for the NGA contract, only Vancouver-based UrtheCast is a satellite operator, and the company’s first UrtheDaily satellites won’t be in orbit until early 2019. The company currently leverages cameras on the International Space Station and two free-flyers gained through the acquisition of Elecnor Deimos in 2015.
NGA said that Orbital Insight, not being a satellite operator, was inherently “incapable of satisfying the requirement.” Hanover, Maryland-based Sky Hawk Drone Services provides imagery only for domestic monitoring activities, the agency said.
NGA said the second Planet contract gives the Defense Department and the Intelligence Community imagery from 25 regions of interest that include the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas.