Private Satellite Imaging For the Public Sector

The Bush administration has directed federal agencies to rely more heavily on private satellite companies to provide images from space. Known as the U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Space Policy, the White House Tuesday issued the directive as the first product of the ongoing National Space Policy Review.

Last year, the administration began a broad review of U.S. space policies, including examining the relationship between the government and the commercial remote sensing industry. Tuesday’s directive replaces the nine-year-old Presidential Decision Directive 23 issued by President Clinton in 1994.

The directive strengthens the government’s long-term objective to establish domestic high-resolution satellite imagery companies as world industry leaders and states that it is in the national security interest to have a strong and competitive U.S. commercial remote sensing industry.

“A robust U.S. commercial remote sensing space industry can augment and potentially replace some existing U.S. Government capabilities and can contribute to U.S. military, intelligence, foreign policy, homeland security, and civil objectives, as well as U.S. economic competitiveness,” the directive states. “Continued development and advancement of U.S. commercial remote sensing space capabilities also is essential to sustaining the nation’s advantage in collecting information from space. In order to maintain a robust U.S. commercial remote sensing industry, we must enhance the international competitiveness of the industry.”

Delivering a keynote address at a U.S. Government-sponsored conference on commercial remote sensing in Washington Tuesday, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans said, “The remote sensing industry is poised for great market penetration. At our department, we recognize the promise of the remote sensing industry.”

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Evans said the industry “provided timely and accurate information.”

In support of its new directive, the White House said the government should “Rely to the maximum practical extent on U.S. commercial remote sensing space capabilities for filling imagery and geospatial needs for military, intelligence, foreign policy, homeland security, and civil users.”

The new policy calls for the government to develop a long-term, sustainable relationship between the government and the U.S. commercial remote sensing space industry, and to provide a timely and responsive regulatory environment for licensing the operations and exports of commercial remote sensing space systems.

According to the White House, the new directive will allow the government to focus its remote sensing space systems on meeting needs that cannot be effectively, affordably, and reliably satisfied by commercial providers because of economic factors, civil mission needs, national security concerns, or foreign policy concerns.

“This new directive is a clear and positive reflection on the government’s long-term commitment to the growth and prosperity of the U.S. commercial remote sensing industry,” said Herbert Satterlee, CEO and chairman of DigitalGlobe, a Longmont, Colo.-based satellite imagery and information. “By issuing this directive, the Bush administration pushes the technology envelope by encouraging all agencies to look to private remote sensing companies for their imaging requirements.”

Robert Dalal, CEO of Denver-based Space Imaging, said, “This is a forward-looking policy that confirms the government’s long-term commitment to the high-resolution commercial satellite industry. Nine years ago, the White House committed to enhance U.S. industrial competitiveness in the remote-sensing field. Today, the White House stated the government will rely, to the maximum practical extent, on U.S. commercial capabilities and ensure U.S. companies continue to lead this important emerging technology.”

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