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White House releases $50M for smallsats

The United States is thinking big on small satellites. At the White House Frontiers Conference — a national convening to boost innovation — hosted by US President Barack Obama in Pittsburgh this week, $50 million have been earmarked in federal funds to harness the smallsat revolution.

By receiving continuously updated imagery of the Earth through smallsats, the administration aims to increase the adoption of small satellites for commercial, scientific, and national security needs.

Of these $50 million, NASA will invest $30 million to support public-private partnership opportunities in the smallsat domain. This means that constellations of commercial smallsats will be tapped for earth science observations by the government for a variety of purposes.

NGA partnership with Planet

The news comes on the heels of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) entering into a $20 million data purchase agreement with smallsat startup Planet. NGA Director Robert Cardillo has admitted before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Sep 27 the agency is looking to purchase and co-develop alerting services and algorithms for automated object-change detection from commercial data streams.

“This will enable analysts to leverage commercial sources they would not otherwise have time to individually exploit. That’s why NGA has expanded outreach and coordination over the last year to the most mature of the ‘new space’ providers such as Planet, Terra Bella, and BlackSky Global to assess mission utility and access to operational data and services,” Cardillo had testified.

Obama pushes for innovation

Meanwhile, Obama pushed for innovation in a recent article for as well. “We need not only the folks at MIT or Stanford or the NIH but also the mom in West Virginia tinkering with a 3D printer, the girl on the South Side of Chicago learning to code, the dreamer in San Antonio seeking investors for his new app, the dad in North Dakota learning new skills so he can help lead the green revolution,” he wrote, adding that the US must keep funding scientific, technological, and medical research.

The Co-Founder and President of Planet, Robbie Schingler — who was present at the White House Frontiers Conference — calls initiatives like this a rebirth of space activities, or the Space Renaissance. He said in a blog post, “It seems that with each passing month, there is a new space-bound company or initiative announced. This is extraordinary. It is like a new breed of aerospace entrepreneurs are forming with innovation coming from unlikely places to create new low-Earth orbit missions.”