NASA To End Free Access to SeaWiFS Images

NASA no longer will provide scientists free access to data collected by the OrbView-2 satellite after spacecraft owner Orbimage Inc. turned down a contract extension from the agency, NASA and Orbimage officials said.

More than 2,000 researchers have been receiving the ocean-color and temperature data collected by OrbView-2's Sea-viewing Wide-Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS). As of Dec. 24, they will have to procure imagery from the company directly, officials said.

"We made an offer and they did not accept it," said Paula Bontempi, NASA's program scientist for ocean biology and biogeochemistry. She declined to share the details of NASA's proposal, but said that "the offer was based on what NASA needed."

Matt O'Connell, chief executive officer of Orbimage, confirmed that the company declined NASA's offer, but would not comment further.

The construction and 1997 launch of OrbView-2 was financed by a five-year data purchase agreement between NASA and Orbital Sciences Corp., the former parent company of Orbimage. The arrangement has been extended since 2002 by a pair of one-year deals, but the latest one will expire Dec. 23.

Orbimage officials had expressed disappointment with the previous $1.1 million extensions. When the original five-year agreement expired, the company had pushed for a five-year extension worth up to $5.1 million a year.

OrbView-2 is designed to operate until at least 2007, and NASA had been the biggest customer for the data, Orbimage has said.

Orbimage, based in Dulles, Va., has set up a program to offer data to scientists at a lower cost than than the company charges commercial customers. "Our principal investigators are being directed toward Orbimage, which has its own plans to distribute the data to the community," Bontempi said. "I haven't heard any feedback from the principal investigators, but most of them understand they can go to Orbimage directly."

Orbimage also has developed a commercial business providing SeaWiFS-based data products to the fishing industry, but company officials have said previously they could not afford to continue operating the satellite without the NASA money.

NASA also has been trying to direct researchers toward more advanced land and sea imagers aboard its Aqua and Terra satellites, both launched since 1999. NASA spent more than $2 billion for the satellites, which carry the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS).

NASA does not charge researchers for MODIS data, which provides data similar to SeaWiFS but with improved spectral capability and sensitivity.

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