In its 2017 Decadal Survey of Earth Science, Thriving on Our Changing Planet, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommended that NASA make low-frequency, in L-band or S-band, radar observations of Earth’s surface. The survey notably did not recommend a specific spacecraft mission to perform these observations; rather, it outlined the characteristics of measurements that would address a variety of high-priority scientific questions, designated Surface Deformation and Change (SDC). The NISAR mission, with an anticipated launch in 2023, will provide data that meet many of these needs, but it has a finite lifespan. Moreover, there will be only one NISAR satellite, which retraces its path after 12 days, and some geophysical observables in the Decadal Survey call for more rapid sampling of our changing planet. Simply building another NISAR, much less three or four, would exceed the National Academies recommended cost target of $500M for the space segment of the observation.

The California Institute of Technology Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is issuing this RFI to help NASA explore creative acquisition options to accomplish the SDC mission. We seek industry feedback on whether a commercial purchase, a public-private partnership, or other arrangement between the U.S. space industry and NASA could provide the scientific community with substantially the same capabilities as multiple NISARs, affordably, within this decade as outlined in the Decadal Survey.

Standard practice would be for NASA to acquire, own, and operate a space asset, while providing the data and derived information products fully open to the public. This RFI seeks to discover if there are viable alternative business models. A public-private partnership would involve NASA and one or more Industry Partners sharing the risk and expense to create a new remote sensing data source, for which sufficient market demand to justify commercial investment without government assistance does not presently exist. In one example of such an arrangement to accomplish the SDC mission, NASA could fund the nonrecurring capitalization cost to develop the data source, and serve as an anchor customer once it exists after NASA consumes all its allotted scenes in return for its capitalization. In consideration of the Industry Partners assumption of business risk, they would be entitled to an opportunity to sell the time-sensitive data and derived information products as long as these do not interfere with NASA’s full and open data policy in the longer term. In consideration of the U.S. Governments commitment of capital and expertise to the partnership, it would also be entitled to certain rights to the data for the benefit of the scientific community and the American people.

NASAs primary objectives for the potential partnership are:

  1. Data that fulfill the Surface Deformation and Change goals are collected for 10 or more years, and are available per NASA Data Policy.
  2. After the initial buildout of the mission, the U.S. Government is assured that it can purchase new measurements indefinitely without making capital expenditures or assuming any technical risk.
  3. The price of the data on an ongoing basis is significantly less than it would be for NASA to build, launch, and operate its own satellites, because the Industry Partner is able to offset some of the sustainment and operation costs with commercial sales, or the Industry Partner is able to achieve an economy of scale such that self-insurance can supplant the traditional approaches to assuring spacecraft reliability.

It is expected that the proposed implementations will consist of multiple satellites, probably between 4 and 18. How many, and what observation methods they use (scanSAR, sweepSAR, multi-squint, etc.) are the subject of an architecture trade study that NASA is currently conducting. The SDC mission may also provide opportunities to explore new observing modalities, such as nearly simultaneous looks from different angles, multistatic radar, or rapid revisit, that are only possible with multiple spacecraft, and this will inform the orbit design and launch program. The proposed mission implementation — how many satellites and where they go — will be determined at a later date. For this RFI, the intent is for potential partners with credible technical and systems engineering expertise to provide NASA with evidence that they are willing to explore innovative business models.


The purpose of this RFI is to request information that will be used to potentially select Industry Partners to provide NASA with the data that the radar science community desires. A partner, if one or more are selected, would be expected to work cooperatively with NASA to develop a concept for a public-private partnership that would apply standard engineering practices to proven technologies to meet the mission objectives. Accordingly, NASA seeks options for the following mission segments:

  1. radar instrument
  2. spacecraft, avionics systems, their delivery to, and operation in, an appropriate orbit
  3. mission operations
  4. mission success

Company Capabilities

Please describe your capabilities in these areas, or how investment that builds onto existing capabilities could develop what would be needed for SDC. Please indicate whether you would be willing to provide one or more of these segments, should NASA decide that a consortium of performers working together is the best way to implement the mission.

NASA may invite your company to present your capabilities and the options for the relationship prior to identifying potential Industry Partners. If NASA identifies potential Industry Partners, then they would enter into discussions with NASA regarding the formulation, implementation, and operations phases of the mission.

Responses to this RFI should be in commonly used document formats as detailed in the response template. NASA will primarily rely on the review of the documents provided to make a decision. There should be an overview presentation, which may be supplemented by explanatory documents or presentations.

Please review this document and assess the applicability of your company’s capabilities to the request. If you feel that your company satisfies the selection criteria listed at the end of this document then please follow the response instructions listed below.

Mission Description

The description of the Surface Deformation and Change mission below provides details on expected science return, measurement capabilities, and observational strategies. In short, SDC is a long-wavelength (S or L-band) synthetic aperture radar constellation of one or more satellites that can map all land and ice-covered surfaces of Earth from ascending and descending orbit vantage points, at 12-day or shorter time steps, by the methods of repeat pass interferometry, at image resolutions in the 5-10 m class.  Polarimetric diversity is also of interest. 

The National Academies Decadal Survey specifies these goals:

  • Interferometric repeat-passes at sub-weekly to daily rates
  • Resolution needs ranging from 5m to 15m
  • Sensitivity to height changes between 1-10 mm
  • Time series measurements from 1 mm/week to 1 mm/year
  • Continuous global monitoring of all land and coastal areas
  • Supplement the program of record for the 2030s timeframe
  • Provide a plan for a 10 plus year mission lifetime
  • Cost cap to NASA for the mission of about $500M (Phases A-F, concept to deorbit)

NASA additionally specifies these observation goals:

  • Measure radiometry, in addition to interferometry
  • Noise equivalent sigma-0 < -20 dB to -25 dB
  • Ambiguities < -20 dB

An interferometry-focused mission could meet many of the decadal survey needs with noise equivalent sigma-0 of -20 dB. Nevertheless, high-quality amplitude measurements (-25 dB) are also important for science. Please indicate what effect this has on cost, capability, or risk.

The measurements that NISAR will make, in either L-band or S-band, would fulfill many of the needs of SDC outside of repeat-pass rates. A full description of the measurement capabilities is in Chapter 4 of the NISAR Science Users Handbook.

This RFI is not asking for a mission proposal. Rather, it is asking for evidence that will allow NASA to form a credible roadmap to implement the mission through a public-private partnership. There are, of course, difficult engineering problems to solve in doing this. Potential Industry Partners should describe what can be achieved today, and what could be reasonably and affordably achieved tomorrow, for the instrument, space access, mission operation and mission success segments.


NASA desires radio measurements at low frequency, in L-band or S-band, so that phase-coherent change maps can be made when several days elapse between observations.

The NISAR L-band background land product is sampled in dual polarization (HH/HV) with 12 m x 8 m resolution, or single polarization with 3 m x 8 m resolution. NISAR also samples US agriculture in a few select areas with quad polarization (HH/HV + VV/VH) with 6 m x 8 m resolution. Representative operation modes from the NISAR guide (not necessarily what SDC will use, but indicative of the instrument needed), as shown in the attached Table 1. Representative Operation Modes from the NISAR Guide. Each of these targets will be observed every cycle, ascending and descending. More observations can either increase time-series density or increase look diversity, both of which provide opportunities for enhanced science.

NISAR will have a swath width of 240 km in order to provide complete coverage between adjacent ground tracks in the orbit. The SDC instrument could match that, or use multiple instruments covering smaller swaths. Please discuss relevant cost tradeoffs. As a reference point the cost to NASA per square kilometer of NISAR data is on the order of 1 to 2 cents.

An L-band instrument is preferred. Depending on how efficient the reflector is, we expect its dimensions to be on the order of 2-3 m x 12 m, for an effective antenna area (at 50 percent efficiency) of 24-36 m2. Based on past NASA experience with similar radars, the instrument operating power is expected to be around 400 W when imaging, and 90 W when idle.

An S-band radar can be considered, although it is more difficult to make interferograms with weekly observations than with L-band. We expect S-band antenna dimensions would be on the order of 1.5 m x 7.5 m, and the radio power would be around 175 W when imaging and 65 W when idle. If your instrument follows a less conservative design, please provide any relevant evidence supporting design choices.

In addition to radar capabilities, please describe approaches to power and heat management for an instrument with a substantial orbital duty cycle of approximately 50 percent to cover all land, ice and coastal regions. If the commercialization strategy includes capturing imagery over the ocean, then please address how that affects cost and complexity.

As the antenna size and power affect the spacecraft complexity and cost, please describe relevant innovations that would significantly change these assumptions.

NOTE: with enough radars in space, it is theoretically possible to produce an interferogram of all the land on Earth with C-band or X-band radar, but as the revisit interval needed for reliable phase unwrapping scales with the radar wavelength, this option has been dismissed as economically unfeasible. Moreover, it seems unwise to accept the challenge of stitching small tiles together to accurately measure the large-scale motion of our planets surface. If you believe an important consideration was overlooked, please explore that part of the solution space.

Space Access

Repeat-pass interferometry is of primary importance for the SDC mission, which requires the spacecraft to precisely repeat its orbit track. NISAR performs drag makeup and inclination adjustment maneuvers to keep the spacecraft within ±250 m in the horizontal and ±325 m in the vertical directions of the reference orbit.

NISAR repeats every 12 days and 173 passes in the dawn-dusk polar orbit at 747 km altitude and images the earth with a 240 km swath. Accordingly, weekly global coverage could be achieved (approximately) with 4 satellites with 120 km swaths, 6 with 80 km swaths, or 8 with 60 km swaths. Please discuss how your capabilities would affect the tradeoffs of the swath width, number of satellites, and revisit interval.

If your capabilities do not include a suitable spacecraft bus, please describe the relevant accommodation requirements, including mass, power, launch volume, heat rejection, and any specific characteristics affecting attitude control. NASA may consider procuring a bus separately from the instrument.

Most of the observation architectures being considered by NASA have between 4 and 18 spacecraft, in a single orbital plane. In your solutions, please identify creative ways to accommodate the decadal survey objective of covering all land and all ice surfaces within the interferometric sampling timeframes, using as many satellites and orbital planes as needed.

Please do not propose a specific mission implementation for this RFI, as it is expected that NASA’s architecture study team will recommend the orbit configuration at a later date, based on calculations of the expected science yield for specific observing geometries.

For the purpose of this RFI, assume that a rocket capable of placing the spacecraft into orbit will exist, and that the costs of vehicle integration and launch will be consistent with the overall program budget. Details of the launch cadence, and how responsibility is allocated among NASA or Industry Partners, will be negotiated at a later time.

Mission Operation

SDC will generate a substantial amount of data, and the Industry Partner may want to capture data in addition to what NASA needs. NISAR will be using a NASA Ka-band downlink system for 35 terabits of data collected daily. These, or commercial downlink solutions, may be considered for SDC.  Seamless integration with the NASA Distributed Active Archive Center for SAR data, and low latency delivery will be important factors for NASA.

The spacecraft will generally be mapping all the land on Earth (including ice sheets and caps), and some sea ice. For disaster response, the spacecraft may be tasked to perform targeted spot collections that deviate from its usual schedule.

If the data has commercial applications that can generate revenue, and that revenue can contribute to the operation, replenishment, and improvement of SDC, then NASA is willing to consider accommodations that support the Industry Partner, subject to NASAs policy.

As an example, the partner may deliver Level 0 data products to the U.S. Government, which NASA would distribute, along with derived data products, under NASAs data policy. These data releases could be delayed a week or two from when they were captured (except for disaster response) in order to give the Industry Partner an opportunity to sell the data and their derived products to other customers. Alternatively, the Industry Provider could have a higher bandwidth radar than needed to fulfill NASA’s desired spatial resolution and provide NASA with only the bandwidth required for its science investigations. Please affirm that your company will be willing to negotiate these terms to reach an agreement that benefits the scientific community as well the Industry Partner.

NOTE: A key objective of SDC is disaster response and monitoring, so in the case that NASA declares a disaster, the system should be taskable to deliver images within 12-24 hours, and then on an ongoing basis with low latency until the disaster is resolved.

NOTE: It is doubtful that any academic scientist has a fast enough internet connection to download the data. The costs of cloud data processing or data egress are outside the scope of this RFI.

NASA does not seek to inspect or validate the Industry Partners business model or assessment of future commercial demand for the data. Rather, please describe options for how the benefits of the partnership to NASA, the data, can be shared so that the mission can be sustained.

Mission Success

Surface Deformation and Change should be consistent with a 10-year mission lifetime (not necessarily single satellite lifetime). As the cost guidance is incompatible with a traditional Class B implementation, please suggest strategies for assuring NASA that quality measurements will be available for the duration of the program, even if individual spacecraft do not last that long. As an alternative to extensive testing or redundant subsystems, reliability may be evaluated at the overall constellation level.

Please discuss:

  • How the probability of independent spacecraft failures affect overall system reliability
  • What analogous systems, testing, or reliability analyses may be used to set bounds on the expected rates of recoverable and nonrecoverable failures
  • How failures could be recoverable, such as with responsive replacement or on-orbit spares
  • Steps that could be taken to reduce the uncertainty in the overall system reliability

Describe the current, and possible future approaches, to electronic reliability.

Please cite examples of your experience with hardware longevity in a LEO environment. If a latchup risk is suspected, based on heavy ion testing of linear energy transfer thresholds, does SDCs duty cycle come with a higher probability of radiation events? NASA also has expertise with spacecraft avionics, which may be helpful. For instance, would heavy ion testing of electronic parts improve knowledge of latchup susceptibility? Or could a low-cost tech demo spacecraft meaningfully demonstrate avionics? If there are critical single-string subsystems, NASA can work with selected Industry Partners to improve reliability. Often, a less risky commercial part can be substituted, or a circuit modified to make it more robust to galactic cosmic rays.

Description of Solicited Support

The SDC mission could be achieved by 3 or 4 NISAR spacecraft, if only they could be built and delivered to space at a fraction of the cost. It is expected that more than technology innovations will be needed to meet the science communitys needs within the budget constraints. Accordingly, NASA is willing to consider a public-private partnership in which NASA and industry share the expense of building the mission and share in the operation.

Please describe phased awards and milestones that could steadily reduce the risk of program implementation while increasing confidence in overall mission success. For example, a substantial study might lead to an implementation plan, upfront investment in design work could lead to lower production costs, or an in-space demonstration could validate critical performance budgets. Estimate the cost of each phase, how much capital the Industry Partner would be willing to contribute toward the expense of those phases, and what data rights, ownership, or responsibility would be expected in consideration for that capital outlay.

Prospective Industry Partners are encouraged to describe steps they have already taken, whether funded through private or government-backed investments, to enable substantial cost savings in the production of instruments, their delivery to space, or operation.

Suggestions for additional areas where your company is uniquely positioned to provide additional support to the project are welcome and will be considered when making our selection.  Conversely, suggestions for areas where NASA capabilities could be incorporated into your architecture to benefit the mission, either as government-furnished equipment or as technology transfer, are welcomed and will be considered.

Innovative business models could be anything from NASA buys, launches, and operates several batch-produced spacecraft to NASA buys a subscription to 12-day repeat data with specific characteristics. NOTE: That if NASA commits to a pure data purchase agreement, it wants assurance that the data will actually exist in a decadal timeframe. Accordingly, NASA expects to work with the Industry Partner to ensure a reliable and sustainable supply of SDC measurements.

Success Criteria for a Teaming Partner

Your response to this RFI should provide information on the cost, risk, and heritage basis for a public-private partnership to measure the deformation and change of Earths surface.

The material you present will be evaluated in the following partnership criteria areas:

1)    Capabilities to provide the hardware.

Clearly demonstrate the ability to manufacture, integrate, test and deploy quality space hardware. Explain what investment in designs, engineering capabilities, and production capabilities would be needed to produce the multiple instruments and satellites for the mission.

2)    Ability to avoid delays and cost growth.

Demonstrate your technical management capability by describing the Non-Recurring Expenses (NRE) and “factory” investments that have been made. What further investment is needed to have the appropriate tools to cost-effectively assure that the product will perform? If, for instance, an antenna technology will scale to a larger aperture, why are you confident that it will work? In the case of an antenna, how do you quantify shape errors cost-effectively? What evidence-based estimates show that those methods will scale to larger antennas? Is there data from previous programs that show your company tracks design parameters, costs, and capabilities in a manner that supports reasonably extrapolating from what you have done to what you could do? If new methods would be promising for reducing cost, schedule, or risk, what options are there for sharing the cost of developing and qualifying these methods?

3)    Successful relevant experience and past performance on comparable missions.

Provide cost and schedule performance from previous relevant work, in particular experience with spaceborne radar, antennas of similar size, and spacecraft buses of comparable power. Examples from non-radar missions are also welcomed to demonstrate ability to execute. Provide customer point of contact and current contact information for missions cited. Describe any financing models for these missions that would reinforce the credibility of a public-private partnership.

4)    Systems engineering expertise.

The response should demonstrate your companys systems engineering capability by relating the driving requirements, resource needs, and price breakpoints. For example, duty cycle affects power dissipation, which affects radiator size, which affects platform size, which may or may not affect cost. Identify key trade studies yet to be done and estimate their time and cost.

A good enough solution may be more desirable than an optimal one, especially if it is more affordable, and it is derived from an existing product line or leads to a promising commercial market. There will be tradeoffs among parameters like swath width, number of satellites, and revisit rate, but some of these trades may be avoided if a currently or tractably attainable capability is suited for a particular implementation. Explaining the reasoning behind your decisions, including time, technical risk, market potential, and cost considerations, will help NASA build confidence in your team and in the acquisition strategy.

5)   Cost to NASA is compatible with around $500M from concept to deorbit over 10 years

Estimate a cost range in FY22 dollars for:

  • non-recurring expenses such as engineering design or production line upgrades
  • perform tech demo or risk reduction testing
  • deliver tech demo or 1-3 pathfinder spacecraft to orbit
  • deliver the full constellation to operation
  • operate the mission for 10 years
  • self-insure to replace an appropriate number of spacecraft which may fail, to ensure overall 95 percent, 97 percent, or 99 percent system uptime.
  • Separately identify costs which are likely to decrease in the future, such as for launch, downlink, storage, or computing.

6)    Willingness to enter into a public-private partnership with NASA

Clearly state willingness to negotiate with NASA regarding the scope, phasing, risk posture, payment plan, ownership, involvement with other partners, and terms and conditions of the proposed public-private partnership. What financing models could provide NASA with the data it needs, by sharing cost, technical risk, and business risk with the partner? Please detail how NASAs Earth Science goals align with the partner’s future, so that this partnership can be mutually beneficial.

NASA does not seek at this stage to evaluate the Industry Partners business model, potential sales, access to capital, or cost of capital that Industry Partner would contribute to the endeavor.

NASA reserves the right to consider other factors when making final decisions.

NASA may select more than one partner. NASA may choose to work with a single performer, a performing team, or multiple performing teams, so as to preserve market competition. NASA is also not obligated to select any partner associated with this RFI.

Response Deadline and Contact Information

Please submit an electronic copy of chart material via email by January 28, 2022 to the below contact. JPL will distribute your material to the appropriate reviewers. 

  • JPL Acquisition, Kirk Bilby, at

If you have any technical questions, please contact the Technical Manager directly for expedient responses.

  • JPL Technical Manager, Paul Rosen, at 

Intellectual Property

Your response will be treated as proprietary and competition-sensitive if marked as such, but NASA assumes no liability for the disclosure, use or reproduction of such data.

You may optionally include a presentation suitable for public release which describes the proposed partnership, key decision points and milestones, and notional overall cost and benefits to NASA to facilitate the diffusion of the proposed plan.

Briefing of Responses

NASA may request some responders to brief their response package via videoconference to an evaluation board. We expect to schedule this in early 2022. The presentation shall be limited to a 2-hour time window that includes time for questions and discussion. Material that does not fit within the time allotted can be attached as backup to a PowerPoint presentation.

Prospective Industry Partners are advised that any information provided in the briefing to the selection board shall be deemed to be furnished with unlimited rights to NASA, with NASA assuming no liability for the disclosure, use or reproduction of such data.

Response Submission Template

Please submit an electronic copy of Attachment 1. Required Response Template for Commercial Options to Implement the Surface Deformation and Change Mission due by January 28, 2022 to the JPL Acquisition contact. JPL will distribute your material to the appropriate reviewers.

Disclaimer: The requested information is for preliminary planning purposes only and does not constitute a commitment, implied or otherwise, that NASA will solicit respondents for such procurement in the future. Neither NASA, JPL, nor the Government will be responsible for any costs incurred by you in furnishing this information.