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U.S. contracts fund next-gen satellite imagery

GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, which count Microsoft and Google as clients, stand to earn more than $3 billion each for long-term projects focused on improving satellite photographic abilities.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, an arm of the U.S. government that oversees satellite imagery collection for military and intelligence work, has awarded two satellite imagery companies contracts worth more than $3 billion each.

The two 10-year contracts are part of a program called EnhancedView to produce a new generation of satellite imagery. GeoEye, based in Dulles, Va., was awarded $3.8 billion, and DigitalGlobe, based in Longmont, Colo., was awarded $3.55 billion.

Each contract is paid annually, subject to congressional approval, and can be canceled annually. The long-term funding paves the way for development of next-generation satellites with higher resolution--in other words, able to discern finer details of the subjects being photographed, though the U.S. government reserves the highest-fidelity imagery for itself.

"To support requirements under the agreement, DigitalGlobe will immediately begin procurement and construction of its next satellite, WorldView-3, which the company anticipates will be ready for launch by the end of 2014," DigitalGlobe said in a statement.

There was a day when satellite imagery was the purview of military and intelligence analysts, but now it's a consumer phenomenon as well. Google and Microsoft are customers of GeoEye and DigitalGlobe satellite imagery for their online mapping products.