To promote the development of small satellites, collecting under one roof a number of efforts The white House announced a new initiative called “Harnessing the Small Satellites Revolution.”

The initiative, which announced in a White House Office of Science and Technology Policy statement, highlights several ongoing efforts by NASA, the Pentagon and other federal government agencies to help develop smallsats or make use of images or other data they provide.

“The recent advent of small sats, spacecraft that weigh anywhere from an ounce to as much as a few hundred pounds, has upended that status quo.  The same advances in electronics and communications technologies that enabled smartphones and put significant computing power in the palm of everyone’s hand are allowing scientists and engineers to design smallsats and coordinated networks of multiple smallsats that deliver novel and diverse capabilities from orbit.  These capabilities can sometimes be delivered at a fraction of the cost and time of legacy satellite systems.  Scientists and engineers can more quickly test their systems on orbit, allowing them to devise new, better systems more quickly, shortening the cycle of innovation and finally bringing “Moore’s Law” to space,” the OSTP wrote in blog announcing the program.

Harnessing the Small Satellite Revolution to Promote Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Space
Harnessing the Small Satellite Revolution to Promote Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Space

Some Highlights of the announcements:

  • NASA will propose up to $30 million to support data buys for smallsats, including up to million $25 million to support data buys derived and purchased from non-governmental small spacecraft constellations and $5 million to advance small spacecraft constellation technologies.
  • NASA will establish a Small Spacecraft Virtual Institute at Ames Research Center in the heart of Silicon Valley early in 2017.  The Virtual Institute will provide a “one-stop shop” for technical knowledge in the rapidly burgeoning small spacecraft technology fields.  It will also act within the agency to promote relevant programs, guidance, opportunities, and best practices, as well as share lessons learned on smallsat missions.
  • A more direct effort has the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency awarding Planet a $20 million contract for a fleet of small satellites that can capture images of “at least” 85 percent of the planet every 15 days.
  • NGA will partner with the General Services Administration to develop an efficient, single point to access and purchase commercially-provided imagery, data, analytical capabilities, and services.
  • The Department of Commerce will elevate the role of the Office of Space Commerce to reflect the growing importance of commercial space as a driver of economic growth, productivity, and job creation.  This will let the Office’s Director to advise the Secretary of Commerce on commercial space issues and the office coordinate policy on critical issues such as licensing, export controls, export promotion, and open data.
  • The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) will release satellite datasets as part of two prize-driven challenges to achieve breakthroughs in the analysis of overhead imagery.

If all goes well, the effort will give private outfits a stronger incentive to build small satellites. They’ll have customers ready and waiting to buy the fruits of their labor.