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Global Surveillance Augmentation Using Commercial Satellite Imaging Systems





The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with section 5.4.c.(8) of the solicitation and within the AF Component-specific instructions. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws. Please direct questions to the AF SBIR/STTR Contracting Officer, Ms. Gail Nyikon,


OBJECTIVE: Develop an end to end system to exploit current and future commercial satellite imaging systems by utilizing novel techniques and algorithms to fuse the different data packages together to detect changes and provide warning/cueing to other systems.


DESCRIPTION: The commercial industry is paving the way for new end to end low earth orbit satellite systems capable of providing near-continuous (revisit times of minutes to hours) imaging of the Earth. Some exemplars of these developments are Google’s SkyBox, PlanetLabs, BlackSky, Spire and Satellogic. Within the next few years, these companies are expected to field their own proprietary constellations, each with their own set of capabilities and products, which will be made available to the average consumer, commercial resellers, corporate and government users. These constellations hold a significant interest for the USAF as they are capable of high revisit rates at pertinent resolutions, between 1-5m. The USAF would like to capitalize on these future systems by building an infrastructure capable of exploiting the products and capabilities of these systems by integrating them into strategic analysis for areas of interest on a global scale. Many of these companies will host their images on their databases anywhere from hours to days after the photos are taken. In addition some systems will allow for consumers to ‘task’ satellites to take pictures of certain areas for a minimal cost.

As many of the companies will be collecting images with differing resolutions and wavebands, from different angles, times of day and over slightly different regions, the data will have to be collected and fused in order to correlate changes in a given area. An important element of this fusion is the registration of images, and in some cases ortho-rectification and geo-registration across these data sets. Next, the USAF needs to determine, autonomously, when significant changes occur in any given region. This poses significant challenges, as angles, shadows, and potentially a lack of geolocation may inhibit systems from properly alerting personnel of new areas of interest or changes in specific regions being monitored. The criteria for a useful tip/cue includes the time from data collection to receipt of the imagery, geolocation accuracy, probability of false alarm, and characterization of the activity or target of interest (i.e. troop buildup, missile launch preparations, etc). The system needs to provide proper warnings and indicators to the Air Force if an area becomes significant enough to require more persistent monitoring. The ability of the USAF to task these constellations must also be considered if it can provide additional value, in which case the processes for allocating these resources and efficiently tasking the constellations must be developed. This effort will receive no more than $1.5M for this award.


PHASE I: Proposal must show:

  • Demonstrated understanding of space imaging systems and products
  • Demonstrated expertise and capability in processing and fusing satellite imagery while performing useful extraction of intelligence value from such imagery(e.g.,crop monitoring)
  • Demonstrated feasibility of automated processing for data mining space based imagery for applications of military interest


FEASIBILITY DOCUMENTATION: Offerors interested in submitting a Direct to Phase II proposal in response to this topic must provide documentation to substantiate that the scientific and technical merit and feasibility described has been met and describes the potential commercial applications. The documentation provided must substantiate that the proposer has developed a preliminary understanding of global surveillance augmentation using commercial satellite systems. Documentation must include A) demonstrated understanding of space imaging systems and products, B) demonstrated expertise and capability in processing and fusing satellite imagery while performing useful extraction of intelligence value from such imagery (e.g., crop monitoring), C) demonstrated feasibility of automated processing for data mining space based imagery for applications of military interest. Documentation should include all relevant information including, but not limited to: technical reports, test data, prototype designs/models, and performance goals/results. Read and follow all of Step 1 of the Air Force 15.3 Instructions. The Air Force will not evaluate the offeror’s related DP2 proposal where it determines that the offeror has failed to demonstrate the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of the Phase I project.


PHASE II: The contractor will study capabilities of future commercial satellite imagery constellations to provide useful military surveillance, indications, warning and threat detection, or other novel applications. The contractor will develop software capable of fusing multiple types of images taken from satellites and determine if a significant change has occurred which could result in further USAF action, and/or to implement image processing algorithms that support novel commercial/military uses.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: The contractor will pursue commercialization of the various technologies developed in Phase II for potential government applications. There are potential commercial applications in a wide range of diverse fields that include agricultural crop monitoring, disaster monitoring, and terrain mapping.


KEYWORDS: Satellite imagery, change detection, event monitoring, image data fusion, image processing, image exploitation, geo-rectification, geo-registration, satellite task scheduling.

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