Other, Pentagon, White House

Intel community willing to allow higher resolution commercial imagery

For the last few years, commercial satellite remote sensing company DigitalGlobe (and, before its merger with DigitalGlobe, GeoEye) has been lobbying the government to allow it to sell sharper satellite imagery that it’s currently allowed. DigitalGlobe is currently restricted to selling imagery with resolution no sharper than 0.5 meters per pixel, but has been pushing to change that limit to 0.25 meters. The company argued that companies in other nations, not subject to US regulations, are providing imagery that is starting to approach DigitalGlobe’s sharpness, and thus the company needs the ability to sell sharper images to compete.

This week, government officials have the strongest indication to date that they’re willing to change the resolution limits. Speaking at the Geoint conference in Tampa on Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the intelligence community had reached “consensus” on supporting DigitalGlobe’s call for revised resolution regulations. “The intelligence community supports a measure that would allow industry to provider higher-resolution commercial satellite imagery,” he told Aviation Week.

Those comments were confirmed later at the conference by Letitia Long, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). However, the process to change those resolution limits requires consultation with several other agencies outside of the intelligence community as well as the White House. She didn’t know when a final decision would come, Space News reported, but the company is hoping for a decision before the August launch of its WorldView-3 satellite, which is designed to produce imagery with resolutions as sharp as 0.31 meters.

It’s unclear if the change in resolution limits would be tied to a review of the overall national commercial remote sensing policy, which does not explicitly include any resolution limits. That policy was last updated 11 years ago, in April 2003; the administration has been gradually performing reviews and updates of “sectoral” space policies, like the national space transportation policy updated last November.

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