GeoEye's first-quarter numbers released last night were a positive surprise. Quarter revenue of $45 million exceeded analyst estimates of $41 million and was up significantly from a year-ago $35 million. Earnings per share were -9 cents, down from -5 cents a year ago but way ahead of analysts' estimates of -25 cents.

What's most impressive about these numbers is that the NGA only gave the green-light to the new GeoEye-1 satellite in late February. At that point, the previously announced service agreement had NGA committed to purchase at least $12.5 million per month for the next year or $37.5 million per quarter.

However, on the earnings call management indicated that very little revenue from this agreement was recognized in the quarter, suggesting that demand from other customers for GeoEye-1 images - those who didn't have to wait on the NGA's operational approval before purchasing their images -- was high.

It's especially intriguing to speculate how much Google ( GOOG) is paying for these images. GeoEye struck a deal with Google last fall prior to the satellite launch and stuck the Google logo on the side of the rocket.

This precluded GeoEye from selling images to Microsoft ( MSFT) or Yahoo! ( YHOO). GeoEye's management has yet to reveal the financial terms of its deal with Google, but the strong revenue growth gives some hope for continued ramp-up in the coming quarters.

From a cost perspective, some in the media have discussed GeoEye cash situation vs. the large costs of developing new satellites. The latest quarter's loss might make observers wonder if there's a lot to get excited about this business, even with growing revenue.

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