EOS Data Policy:

Questions Remain About U.S. Commercial Access

IMTEC-92-44: Published: Jun 25, 1992. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 1992.


Samuel W. Bowlin
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) planned Earth Observing System (EOS), focusing on NASA policies and international principles governing U.S. commercial access to information collected by EOS satellites.

GAO found that: (1) consistent with the Landsat Act, NASA plans a two-tiered access system, free for research, operational, and environmental monitoring users, and at a market-based cost for commercial users; (2) NASA draft policy allows both foreign and domestic research users access to data if they agree to publish research findings and not use the data for commercial purposes; (3) NASA plans to competitively select a bidder to serve as the vendor for commercial users; (4) most EOS data have only research or operational applications, although data collected by certain EOS instruments have such commercial potential as identification of gold ore deposits and oil concentrations, oil and mineral exploration, forest management, and geological mapping; (5) an EOS engineering review committee has recommended that NASA reconfigure EOS platforms onto smaller satellite clusters and set priorities for EOS data collection; (6) NASA has not involved industry users in developing the EOS Data Information System (EOSDIS) or defined key access provisions regarding data availability; (7) uncertainties about profitability raise questions about the viability of using a commercial vendor, and NASA does not have a backup plan if it cannot obtain a vendor; and (8) international principles for governing the equitable exchange of EOS data among international users have not yet been formally approved by any of the EOS partners.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should direct EOS program officials to obtain industry input to verify which of the instruments, as approved for flight on the EOS platforms, have potential commercial value and how best to make data available from these instruments. Once the proposed legislative changes are resolved, the Administrator should require the program to fully develop its detailed strategy for commercial access.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA agreed to involve the private sector in discussions about the whole spectrum of access to EOS data, including a strategy for access. According to program officials, private-sector representatives have been involved in recent EOS planning efforts.

    Recommendation: Should current Landsat provisions regarding commercial access remain unchanged, the Administrator, NASA, should require the agency to develop a back-up strategy, including a review of legal alternatives, since commercial access under the present provisions is uncertain.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Landsat Act was recently amended by P.L. 102-555, the "Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992."

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