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

Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program

Program Overview

The Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program (CSDAP) was established to identify, evaluate, and acquire data from commercial sources that support NASA's Earth science research and application goals. NASA's Earth Science Division (ESD) recognizes the potential impact commercial small-satellite (smallsat) constellations may have in encouraging/enabling efficient approaches to advancing Earth System Science and applications development for societal benefit.

Commercially acquired data may also provide a cost-effective means to augment and/or complement the suite of Earth observations acquired by NASA and other U.S. government agencies and those by international partners and agencies. Going forward, NASA-funded researchers will be able to request access to the data from the commercial small satellite vendors. NASA will maintain the archive of data purchased from the vendors. Information about these vendors and data is available on the Commercial Datasets page.

Strategic Objectives

The objectives of the program are to:

  • Establish continuous and repeatable processes to onramp new commercial data vendors and evaluate data for its potential to advance NASA's Earth science research and applications activities.
  • Enable the sustained use of purchased data for broader use and dissemination by NASA scientific community.
  • Ensure long-term data preservation through the establishment of data management processes and systems to support rapid evaluation, access and distribution of purchased data, and long-term access to purchased data for scientific reproducibility.
  • Coordinate evaluation and scientific use with the European Space Agency (ESA).

Pilot Phase

In 2017, NASA initiated a program called the Private-Sector Small Constellation Satellite Data Product Pilot Project to evaluate how observations derived from Earth-orbiting, small-satellite constellations can provide a cost-effective means to augment observations from the agency's fleet of orbiting Earth science missions.

Under the pilot program, NASA awarded contracts to three companies - Planet Labs, Inc. (Planet), Maxar (formerly DigitalGlobe Inc.), and Spire Global, Inc. - that met the criteria within the public request for information (RFI). Data from the awarded vendors was evaluated by 41 NASA-selected principal investigators (PIs).

Commercial Data

The scientific community may use commercial datasets that are acquired by NASA for scientific purposes in adherence to vendor-specific terms and conditions. Currently, data acquired during the evaluations of Planet, Maxar, and Spire Global are available at no cost to NASA-funded researchers. Through NASA ESD’s collaboration with the International Space Station (ISS), data from the Teledyne Brown Engineering, Inc., DLR Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer (DESIS) is also available for all US government-funded researchers.

Information about these vendors and data is available on the Commercial Datasets page. As additional commercial small satellite datasets are evaluated and acquired, those datasets will also be made available.

Going Forward

As the capabilities of commercial satellite vendors grow, NASA's Earth Sciences Division (ESD) will continuously monitor the development of these companies and acquire relevant data to complement NASA's Earth observation data.

Data that is favorably evaluated and deemed of sufficient value will be purchased by NASA for broader sustained use. Contract types will be selected on a vendor-by-vendor basis that are best suited to provide long-term access to data.

All data purchased by NASA will be made available to NASA-funded researchers with the standard scientific use license.

Onramp and Evaluation

With the transition from pilot to ongoing data acquisition activities, ESD has established a process for identifying vendors and evaluating data.

Request for Information

Every 12–18 months an RFI will be issued with the goal of identifying data that is potentially valuable for NASA's Earth science research and application activities. Vendors that meet the minimum qualifications of the RFI will be asked to submit a request for proposal (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 contain a standardized scientific use license to minimize the effort by NASA and confusion by users on how data can be used. The next RFI will be released in the fall of 2020.


Data from selected vendors will be evaluated by teams of PIs selected by NASA's ESD. The selected PIs will be required to submit a final report as part of the evaluation. The reported results will be summarized and reported out to ESD senior management. The summary report is not intended to be a consensus recommendation, but a document that takes into account the results of all team member evaluations.

NASA will use the summary report, individual PI reports, and other information to determine the suitability of data from each vendor for future procurements. The summary report will be made available on the CSDAP web page.

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.

Program Activities

NASA's ESD presented a Town Hall at AGU (PDF), Tuesday, December 10, 2019 and a Side Panel Discussion at AMS (PDF), Monday, January 13, 2020 to provide a status update on the pilot activity, answer questions about data access and on-ramps for other constellation owners, and answer questions from the community.

The Program's synthesis report outlines the Pilot research findings for each vendor and includes recommendations that inform the way forward for the Program.

The Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program (CSDAP) hosted a brown bag session to provide a summary of the Pilot findings, program update on how researchers can access commercial data and a tutorial on the Smallsat Data Explorer (SDX) tool: Commercial Smallsat Brown Bag (PDF).

Page Last Updated: Jun 11, 2020 at 8:22 AM EDT