NASA to purchase data from private-sector satellites

In a sharp break from its traditional method of using its own satellites to collect data on the universe NASA plans to purchase scientific data from the commercial sector.

NASA's Stennis Space Center last month issued a request for offers to purchase weather and climate data gathered by private-sector satellites. The information will be used by scientists in the agency's Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) program which is an international research effort to study the environment to protect it from harmful human influences such as damage to the ozone layer and global warming.

NASA's fiscal 1997 budget included $50 million to initiate the purchase of earth science data collected by the private sector. Officials will consider however offers that exceed that amount if the offer provides the best value to the program said Rebecca Dubuisson a NASA contracting officer.

The two-phase multiple-award procurement will also employ a "cash-on-delivery approach " she said. "What we hope to do with this buy is just buy data commercially " Dubuisson said. "We won't pay for the development costs. We're treating this like a commercial item acquisition."

The purchase is part of NASA's "better faster cheaper" philosophy which is NASA's streamlining effort. NASA plans to use similar approaches in the future wherever a requirement exists that industry can meet said Bob Kreider a NASA MTPE information systems executive.

"It's a new way of doing business and certainly a new way of doing business for us...where the government buys the data instead of developing hardware or software to collect it " he said.

The shift was prompted in part by industry representatives suggesting to Office of Management and Budget officials that they could provide the data to NASA for less money in a looser regulatory environment he said.

"It's kind of put up or shut up time." Kreider said. "The largest part of the risk is shifted to industry. We're not going to give them the money until we get the data. We hope that industry will respond to it with the interest that we think they will."

Douglas Gerull president of EarthWatch Inc. a commercial satellite and remote sensing company in Longmont Colo. said he is pleased that NASA is actively considering using commercial sources for its earth data needs.

"We're doing all we can to position ourselves to meet their needs as we become better aware of them over time " he said.

While Stennis is managing the procurement and the evaluation process officials at NASA headquarters will define the scientific requirements and make the final selection.

Vendor proposals may include data collected from satellites specifically launched for the initiative or data produced from innovative processing of existing systems.

The solicitation calls for data that covers five areas: land cover and land-use changes seasonal climate change prediction natural hazards research long-term climate research and ozone studies.

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