1. Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program
  2. Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program

Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program

Program Overview

In the fall of 2018, NASA initiated a year-long program to evaluate how observations derived from Earth-orbiting, small-satellite constellations can be a cost-effective means to augment observations from the agency’s fleet of orbiting Earth science missions.

The Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program (CSDAP) objective is to identify, evaluate, and acquire data from commercial sources that support NASA’s Earth science research and application activities directly related or leading to Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) focused on the atmosphere, cryosphere, land, and ocean, as defined by the Global Climate Observing System. Commercially acquired data may provide a cost-effective means to augment and/or complement the suite of Earth Observations acquired by NASA and other US government agencies and those by international partners and agencies. Emphasis is placed on data acquired by small-satellite constellations, affording the means of complementing NASA acquired data with higher resolutions, increased temporal frequency, or other novel capabilities in support of existing Earth science and application activities. The strategic objectives of the program are to:

  • Establish continuous and repeatable process to on-ramp new commercial data vendors and evaluate the data for its potential to advance NASA’s Earth science research and applications.
  • Enable sustained use of purchased data for broader use and dissemination.
  • Ensure long-term data preservation through establishment of data management processes and systems to support rapid evaluation, access and distribution of purchased data, and long-term stewardship of purchased data.

Pilot Evaluation Overview

Under the Pilot program, NASA awarded contracts to three companies (Planet Labs, Inc.; DigitalGlobe, Inc.; and Spire Global, Inc.) that met the criteria within the public Request for Information (RFI). The small satellites were required to:

  • be in non-geostationary orbits (not following the Earth's rotation);
  • provide consistent, global coverage; and
  • be designed and operated by non-governmental entities.

A total of 34 researchers were selected belonging to at least one of the six Research and Analysis thematic areas or any one of the four Applied Science program elements. These NASA-funded researchers were selected to examine and analyze the data to help determine their utility for advancing NASA’s science and applications development goals. In addition to the assessments of the scientific suitability, other evaluation criteria included data availability (latency), license rights versus cost, and the vendor’s plans for constellation maintenance and evolution. In addition, CSDAP acquired the services of three researchers with expertise in calibration and validation of multi-spectral imagery. They were asked to assess the radiometric calibration and geolocation accuracy of Planet and DigitalGlobe multispectral imagery. The pilot program evaluation took place from January 1-October 31, 2019. The vendor data was evaluated based on the following set of criteria:

  • Accessibility of vendor supplied imagery and data: the ease and efficiency with which data can be searched, discovered, and downloaded from vendor systems.
  • Accuracy and completeness of metadata: the thoroughness of metadata provided by the vendor and whether the metadata reflected actual data characteristics.
  • Quality of User Support Services: the availability, responsiveness, and technical expertise required to answer Investigator inquiries.
  • Appropriateness of End User License Agreement (EULA) for scientific research: the suitability of EULA to allow investigators to perform open science.
  • Usefulness of data and imagery for advancing Earth science research and applications: the ability of vendor provided data to support Earth science research and application activities.

Program Activities

The NASA Earth Science Division will present a Town Hall at the American Geophysical Union 2019 Fall Meeting on Tuesday, December 10, 2019 to provide a status update on the pilot activity, answer questions about data access, on-ramps for other constellation owners, and answer questions from the community.

Acquired Data

All data acquired during the Pilot phase is mirrored in a NASA system. Future Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES) solicitations will include commercial data use elements for utilization of mirrored data. A search, discovery, and download system is being built for broader dissemination of acquired data. The tool will be used to enforce the EULA.

Onramp and Evaluation

As the capabilities of commercial satellite vendors grow, NASA ESD will continuously monitor the development of these companies and acquire relevant data to complement NASA's Earth observation data. The onramp process includes an RFI and a Request for Proposal (RFP) from vendors followed by evaluation.

Request for Information

Every 12-18 months, an RFI will be issued with the goal of identifying commercial data that are potentially valuable for NASA’s Earth science research and applications. Vendors that meet the minimum qualifications of the RFI will be asked to submit an RFP so NASA can enter into a Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) to evaluate data over a 12- to 18-month period. All RFIs, RFPs, and BPAs will include the most optimal scientific use license.


Data from selected vendors will be evaluated by teams of Principal Investigators (PIs) selected through the Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES) solicitation. For each vendor being evaluated, there will be one evaluation team selected. Each team will generate an evaluation report. NASA will use the summary report, individual Principal Investigator (PI) reports, and other information to determine the suitability of data from each vendor for future procurement. The summary report will be made available on the CSDAP webpage on the Earthdata website. All data purchased during the evaluation phase will be preserved for long-term data use by NASA for future use in accordance with the scientific use license.

Procurement and Use

Data that are favorably evaluated and deemed of sufficient value will be purchased by NASA for broad use. Contract types that are best suited to provide long-term access to data will be selected on a vendor-by-vendor basis. All data purchased by NASA will be made available to NASA-funded researchers with the standard scientific use license.

Last Updated: Dec 6, 2019 at 3:14 PM EST