Mon June 16, 2003 04:51 PM ET
By Andrea Shalal-Esa.
The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) will seek proposals in the next two weeks for imagery from a next-generation commercial satellite, a deal worth up to $500 million in contracts, industry and defense sources said on Monday. A NIMA spokesman had no comment on the classified “NextView” imagery contract, which industry sources say aims to achieve imagery from space with a resolution from one-quarter meter to one-half meter. NIMA said only that a formal “request for proposals” would be issued within “a couple weeks.”
Defense sources said NIMA, the agency that updates maps for the U.S. military, had not yet decided whether to award the contract to a sole supplier or several, and would reserve that judgment until viewing the contract bids. A contract decision is expected in August or September, they said.
Space Imaging, a Lockheed Martin Corp.LMT.N , Raytheon Co. RTN.N joint venture that in 1999 launched Ikonos, the world’s first one-meter resolution commercial imaging satellite, will compete for the contract, said vice president Mark Brender. Other bidders are expected to include Digital Globe Corp., based in Longmont, Colorado, and Chicago-based Boeing Co., which is the prime contractor for Future Imagery Architecture, a classified military spy satellite plagued by some $1 billion in cost overruns and program delays.
Space Imaging applied last November for a license to build a next-generation commercial imaging system that could have a ground resolution as small as a quarter meter. The NIMA contract follows a June 2002 memo from CIA Director George Tenet in which he ordered spy agencies to use commercial satellite images for most mapping work, leaving the government’s own satellites free for other intelligence work. Representatives from various government agencies will meet in Washington on Thursday to examine ways to implement Tenet’s directive, according to industry sources. The decision to reserve capacity on the next-generation commercial imaging satellite will allow the government to set requirements for the satellite, and guarantees it a better “pre-construction” price, industry sources said. It will also provide a sort of “insurance policy” for the government in case FIA, the government’s next-generation spy satellite — which will take both digital optical and radar “pictures” from space — is not launched in 2007, they added.