WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office said it wants to expand the agency’s use of commercial hyperspectral imaging, a technology that uses the electromagnetic spectrum to reveal the material makeup of an object or surface area.
The NRO, which builds and operates observation satellites for the U.S. government, released a solicitation this week calling for off-the-shelf solutions to support demonstrations and studies that will help determine how it might use hyperspectral imaging in the future.
The agency expects to award a contract early next year, according to a spokesperson.
Commercial imaging and detection technology is in high demand and its utility has been on full view during the war in Ukraine, where imaging companies’ satellite data reveals details about Russian troop movements.
The request for proposals is part of a part of a broader Strategic Commercial Enhancement effort, which NRO unveiled in 2021 as a way to better leverage commercial space technology. Past study contracts issued as part of this initiative focused on radars and radio frequency sensing, which can detect energy emissions from space to improve domain awareness for the warfighter.
Beyond providing imagery, hyperspectral satellite sensors rely on electromagnetic emissions to collect details about the material makeup of an object or region. The technology can be used to identify underground targets, spot camouflaged equipment or detect enemy attempts to jam GPS or communications signals.
“NRO looks forward to learning about the capabilities of multiple providers and how hyperspectral data can support our vital mission,” the agency said in a statement.
Director Chris Scolese said during a Nov. 15 Intelligence and National Security Alliance event that NRO sees value in investing in commercial technology alongside the bespoke systems it traditionally develops. He referenced the agency’s Electro-Optical Commercial Layer program, which in May selected Maxar Technologies, BlackSky and Planet Labs to provide space imagery services over the nex decade.
“We value our commercial partnerships and there have been a lot of investments by commercial entities in a lot of different phenomenologies,” he said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what’s out there.”
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.