The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has finalized three awards as part of its largest-ever commercial satellite imagery contract effort, marking a historic expansion of NRO’s acquisition of commercial imagery on behalf of the U.S. government.

The contracts awarded under the Electro-Optical Commercial Layer (EOCL) program replaced the agency’s previous single-vendor agreement signed with Maxar Technologies – a deal established in 2010. NRO previously paid Maxar approximately $300 million a year for access to the company’s high-resolution imagery satellites and image archives.

NRO is awarding the contracts to each of Maxar, along with BlackSky, and Planet.

While NRO has not disclosed the exact monetary value of the deals, it explained that the contracts were “valued at billions of dollars over the next decade.”

“The NRO has a long-standing strategy of ‘buy what we can, build what we must,'” said Dr. Chris Scolese, director of the NRO, in a press release. “The diversity offered by our expanding architecture comprised of both commercial and NRO systems increases our resilience and enables an integrated approach to the threats facing our Nation.”

EOCL’s unique design features user-friendly license agreements, built-in contract flexibility, and maximizes shareability across NRO’s diverse customer base.

“Commercial imagery is a valuable tool for information sharing and decision making,” said Pete Muend, director of NRO’s commercial systems program office. “EOCL allows us to meet a larger number of customer requirements more quickly than ever before and dedicate national systems to the most challenging and sensitive missions.”

Due to its unclassified and shareable nature, commercial remote sensing data offer several benefits, including increased transparency, mission-critical situational awareness, and humanitarian assistance. And the new contracts ensure that NRO can meet increasing customer demands with greater capacity.

With these new contracts, the NRO intends to support its nearly half-million intelligence, defense, and Federal civil agency users with remote sensing capabilities shareable across the entire government.

The EOCL contracts include a substantial increase in requirements for foundation data, intelligence points, and non-taskable data collection; shortwave infrared, nighttime, and non-earth imaging; and direct downlink to theater-based remote ground terminals, “a vital capability for the military that has been successfully demonstrated in multiple exercises over the past year,” according to the agency.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.