The next generation of hi-res satellite imaging technology is on the way, at least if the United States government has anything to say about it. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency has awarded satellite imaging firms GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, which provide images for Google and Microsoft among others, contracts upwards of $3.5 billion each to help them get the next wave of imaging technology into the sky.
Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe was given a $3.55 billion 10-year contract, to be paid out in annual installments. Virginia-based GeoEye, whose high-res photos have often been featured on PopSci.com, got the same terms on an even richer $3.8 billion contract. For that kind of cash, the government won’t be accepting incremental improvements.
The NGA — the organ of state responsible for the collection of military and intelligence satellite imagery — wants next-gen technologies with higher-res capabilities as part of its EnhancedView program, an initiative to improve the military/intelligence community’s imaging capability. To that end, DigitalGlobe already issued a statement that it will immediately get cracking on its next satellite, WorldView-3, which could launch in 2014. GeoEye’s third-gen satellite, GeoEye-2, should be operational by 2013.
But the hardware isn’t actually the most costly portion of the contracts. Both agreements stipulate that $2.8 billion of the sum offered is for photos that will be provided to the government over the course of the contract. The balance of each deal is for additional services, infrastructure upgrades, new hardware and the like.
But unlike most massive government contracts, the little guy can expect to see some kind value out of the deal. Though obviously the best high-res imagery goes to the highest bidder (the NGA), both GeoEye and DigitalGlobe provide images for commercial mapping services as well, and better satellites should lead to better publicly available satellite imagery too.