Commercial satellite imagery and data can play a key role in national security. For example, the war in Ukraine has drawn attention to how governments are using commercial satellites to track troop movement and the impact of attacks.
The commercial space industry is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, and therefore may be able to address more of the federal government's imagery needs. We previously reported on defense and intelligence agencies' acquisition and use of commercial satellite imagery.
This report includes an inventory of contracts across 10 civilian federal departments that use satellite imagery.
Commercial Satellite Image of Russian Military Convoy Outside Kyiv, 2022
What GAO Found
Based on the information collected by GAO on contracts for the purchase and use of commercial satellite imagery by ten federal civilian departments and agencies, GAO observed:
- Five of 10 federal civilian departments and agencies—Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Interior, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—reported current commercial satellite imagery contracts. The Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, State, Transportation, and Treasury did not report current commercial satellite imagery contracts.
- Officials from the five departments and agencies with contracts cited specific needs for procuring commercial satellite imagery, including needed revisit rates, rapid tasking, resolution, or wavelengths outside of the visible spectrum.
- NASA reported the largest amount of commercial satellite imagery spending on current contracts for federal civilian departments and agencies with its officials reporting a total of $75,657,508 since 2018.
- Eight of 10 departments and agencies reported that they use commercial satellite imagery acquired by the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) through their participation in the National System for Geospatial Intelligence or through their access to commercial imagery in NGA's web-hosted service.
In a separate classified enclosure that will be provided to those entities with the proper clearance and need to know, GAO also reports on contracts for the purchase and use of commercial satellite imagery by DOD, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Why GAO Did This Study
Commercial remote sensing satellites and the data they produce have transformed the way the U.S. approaches critical national security issues. Based on recent trends, the commercial space industry is expected to grow significantly in the coming years and therefore may be able to address more of the Intelligence Community's (IC) and Department of Defense's (DOD) imagery needs. As a starting point, the federal government should have good visibility into its current spending and contracts for commercial satellite imagery.
The House Appropriations Committee report that accompanied a bill for the Fiscal Year 2022 DOD appropriations act included a provision for us to report on contracts related to commercial satellite imagery across the national security community.
In July 2022, GAO issued a classified report on how the DOD and IC acquire commercial satellite imagery and analytic services that use remote sensing data, and, in September 2022, GAO issued an unclassified version of this report. The classified and unclassified versions of the report address most of the reporting provisions for us in House Report 117-88.
The purpose of this correspondence is to provide supplemental information to address the provision in House Report 117-88 not covered in our July 2022 (GAO-22-105072C) or September 2022 (GAO-22-106106) reports. Specifically, this product provides an inventory of contracts across the national security community for commercial satellite imagery.
GAO collected information on commercial satellite imagery contracts, including the title, type, maximum annual value, period of performance, and mission purpose, that 10 civilian federal departments and agencies, DOD, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Central Intelligence Agency identified. These entities had initiated these contracts in fiscal year 2022 or previous years and were still within their period of performance at some point in fiscal year 2022.
For more information, contact Brian Mazanec at (202) 512-5130 or email@example.com.