About the Pilot

In December 2017, NASA's Earth Science Division (ESD) launched the Private-Sector Small Constellation Satellite Data Product Pilot — referred to hereafter as the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition (CSDA) Program Pilot — with the objective of identifying, evaluating, and acquiring remote sensing imagery and data that supports NASA’s Earth science research and application activities.

Under the Pilot program, NASA awarded contracts to three companies — Planet; Maxar (formerly DigitalGlobe Inc.); and Spire Global Subsidiary, Inc. — that met the criteria within the public request for information (RFI). The small satellites were required to:

  • have satellite constellations comprised of three or more satellites from U.S. companies operating and collecting data in a non-geostationary orbit (not following Earth's rotation);
  • provide consistent, global coverage; and
  • be designed and operated by non-governmental entities.

To evaluate the data, ESD identified 41 existing NASA-funded research projects that could potentially benefit from and had expertise to evaluate the imagery and/or data being considered for purchase. The pilot evaluation program took place from January 1 to December 16, 2019. The Program final report synthesizes and integrates the findings of research reports commissioned by the Pilot. Results are presented for each vendor separately. The report also includes recommendations that inform the way ahead for the program.

Evaluation Overview

NASA-funded Principal investigators (PIs) from all six ESD Research and Analysis (R&A) interdisciplinary science focus areas, Applied Science program elements, and the Heliophysics Space Weather program examined and analyzed commercial datasets to help determine their utility for advancing NASA’s science and applications development goals during the Pilot program.

Less than a third of the Pilot PIs evaluated multiple vendors for their projects. Spire data evaluation was largely performed orthogonally to the Planet and Maxar Technologies segments, because the latter were focused on satellite imagery.

In addition, CSDA funded two research teams specializing in satellite calibration and validation to independently assess the radiometric calibration and geolocation accuracy of vendor-provided multispectral imagery.

As a requirement of the program, the participating PIs were asked to submit two progress reports and a final evaluation on the usefulness of commercial data to meet the research and application needs. Findings from the PI reports indicated that the pilot program data are of sufficient quality for continued access and the pilot program has now transitioned to CSDA.

Pilot Program Activities

The ESD presented a Town Hall at AGU (PDF), Tuesday, December 10, 2019, and a Side Panel Discussion at AMS (PDF), Monday, January 13, 2020, to provide a status update on the pilot activity, answer questions about data access and on-ramps for other constellation owners, and answer questions from the community.

CSDA hosted a brown bag session to provide a summary of the Pilot findings, program update on how researchers can access commercial data, and a tutorial on the Smallsat Data Explorer (SDX) tool: CSDA Brown Bag (PDF).

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