NGA plans new procurement of commercial Earth monitoring services

Science

ST. LOUIS — The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is planning a new procurement of commercial services to monitor activities from space. 

“We’re preparing for commercial advancements in analytics through our upcoming Luno contract,” NGA’s director Vice Adm. Frank Whitworth said May 22 at the GEOINT 2023 symposium.

Luno is the follow-on to NGA’s economic indicator monitoring (EIM) contract that the agency started in 2021. Nearly $30 million in task orders were awarded to five vendors. An additional $60 million is projected to be spent on task orders over five years.  

In preparation for the Luno contract, NGA solicited comments from the industry earlier this year. 

EIM sought commercial geospatial data and analytics services to improve the U.S. government’s insights on economic activity, adversaries’ military capabilities and trends around the world, such as the flow of raw materials, agricultural products, fuels and vehicles.

Luno will address a broader range of topics and will focus on the timeliness of the intelligence, Whitworth said. “We see automated 3D mapping, autonomous vehicles can already capture and process 3D data in real time. And they’ve set mass market expectations.”

According to NGA’s request for information, Luno seeks “unclassified computer vision capabilities to include object detection, object classification, object segmentation, pattern detection, broad area search, area monitoring and feature mapping that will augment existing unclassified and classified capabilities and data sources.” 

The data provided by Luno contracts has to “integrate directly into analytic workflows for operational use,” said NGA. 

Data from multiple sources

Whitworth said the U.S. intelligence community wants fully analyzed data from multiple sources. “We believe industry’s ability to self organize into multi-sourced consortiums will provide never before seen opportunities,” he said. “Unclassified services will deliver enriched data and maintain custody of activity of interest.”

So-called “custody services” also will be sought under Luno. “These can provide defense, civil and intelligence customers with reliable periodic updates of the position and disposition of objects and activity throughout time and space,” Whitworth said.

The Luno contract will attempt to address industry concerns that government procurements of commercial data prescribe what the solution should be, rather than let companies come up with options. 

“We envision tasking for the insights we desire, and letting industry provide us with the best mix of sources and analytics required to deliver the insight,” said Whitworth. “Instead of us buying different analytical services and combining them ourselves. industry will do that themselves.” 

“We also see consortiums of companies able to tip and cue to maintain custody of high interest activity objects over time,” he added. “There will be a shift from buying analysis as a service to buying commercial orchestration as a service.”

Luno is ‘the next step’

James Griffith, NGA’s director of source operations and management, told reporters May 22 that EIM projects are still in progress and the agency has not yet rolled out a procurement strategy for Luno. 

EIM is a multi-vendor contract. NGA in 2021 selected five vendors to compete for awards: BAE Systems, Ball Aerospace, BlackSky, Continental Mapping Consultants and Royce Geospatial Consultants.

Griffith said NGA views the EIM program as a pilot for how to acquire commercial services. “Luno is the next step, which will be a more comprehensive vehicle.”

“Part of our charter relative to commercial is not just identifying and assessing new capabilities and then exposing them to the  community,” Griffith said. “It’s also then being able to agilely deliver them so that they are operationally relevant. And Luno is our vehicle to do that.”

Luno is being designed to “define a bunch of different areas where we’re interested in using commercial imagery and computer vision to support U.S. government operations,” he said. An example might be data for humanitarian assistance operations in support of USAID.

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