The Speed of Small Sat Innovation

USGIF to host fifth workshop in its ongoing small satellite series at NGA later this month


Five years ago, when the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) and its then newly-formed Small Satellite Working Group hosted their first joint workshop, the message was: “Get ready—small sats are coming!”

“Well, now we’re there,” said George Flick, co-chair of USGIF’s Small Satellite Working Group. “There are numerous success stories such as Planet and we’re seeing more and more collection capability. The question now is, ‘What do we do with it?’”

USGIF and the working group will host the next iteration in this ongoing community conversation Feb. 19-20 at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Springfield, Va. The title of the 2019 workshop is “The Speed of Innovation,” and the two-day event will feature both an unclassified and a classified day, each packed with keynotes, panel discussions, networking opportunities, exhibits, and more. Speakers will include experts from NGA, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, industry, and academia.

Christy Monaco, chief ventures officer with NGA’s Office of Ventures and Innovation, said she “looks forward to hearing from companies that are in this rapidly innovating space about how they’re dealing with this sort of disruption and where they see opportunities for government and commercial interests to work together.”

Monaco will moderate a panel discussion during the unclassified day about commercial innovation in data management and analytics. Among the topics she plans to discuss with her panel are balancing development work between commercial and government markets, the capabilities of U.S. adversaries, and advice for startup companies.

Jack O’Connor, director of the geospatial intelligence program at Johns Hopkins University, will lead an unclassified panel discussion titled, “Government Decision Making: Product vs. Pixels.” According to O’Connor, as more small sats are launched in the U.S. and abroad and the volume of pixels generated continues to accelerate, clarity is still lacking in terms of how to best convert small sat data into useful information. He compared the challenges and opportunities presented by small sats to those of the ’90s, when the Intelligence Community grappled with how to harness the internet. O’Connor said he spends a lot of time considering small sats and other new and growing sources of data when designing curriculum.

“The public focus is on the math and the science,” he said. “However, the other part of that is the art and history of the profession. If you have 100x more data and our customers have 1,000x more sources of data, communicating is that much harder. You have to be able to deliver information with precision.”

O’Connor said he looks forward to convening experts from government, industry, and academia at the workshop, and hopes that each member of the audience leaves with at least one new question with regard to small sats.

“They may have many questions already, but if sparked correctly it will lead to a new way of thinking,” he said. “We don’t have all the answers, but a new question can be as useful as an answer.”

  • Click here to learn more and to register for the Small Satellite Workshop. The deadline to register and pass clearances is Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. EST.

Headline image courtesy of Capella Space

Posted in: News   Tagged in: Analysis, Data, Remote Sensing, Small Sats


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