Russia Looking To Germany for Radar Reconnaissance Satellites

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MADRID — The Russian Ministry of Defense is asking the German government for permission to purchase two medium-resolution X-band radar Earth observation satellites from Astrium GmbH for use by Russia’s military, European government and industry officials said.

The request, for satellites that would resemble Germany’s government-commercial TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X spacecraft, both in orbit, has not yet been approved by the German government, according to the German space agency, DLR. “There is a request from Russian Government to offer the delivery of German Radar-satellites,” DLR said in a Feb. 22 statement in response to SpaceNews inquiries. “German industry is working on that and is requesting DLR’s support. In any case a potential export has to be permitted by the German government because of its special nature. A decision is still pending. No contract has been signed.”

In addition to the German government, the U.S. government likely would need to approve the deal insofar as U.S.-made components covered by technology-export restrictions are on both the German satellites currently in orbit, according to industry officials.

Under the scenario being considered by satellite prime contractor Astrium GmbH, KB Arsenal of St. Petersburg, Russia, would be the principal Russian company to handle the satellites’ final integration in Russia. Astrium would deliver the synthetic-aperture radar observing instruments as “black boxes,” meaning that in principle they would not be available for thorough inspection and reverse engineering by the Russian contracting team.

The technology transfer involved in the contract will be limited, according to one industry official.

DLR has been asked to take part in the deal by providing part of the ground segment and the in-orbit calibration of both satellites, to be performed by the German Space Operations Center.

DLR financed about 75 percent of the cost of the two-satellite X-band radar mission, with Astrium GmbH and its Earth observation services affiliate, Astrium Geo-Information Services, paying the remaining share. DLR has said that including the ground segment and the two satellites’ launch, the TerraSAR-X/TanDEM-X missions cost some 365 million euros ($493 million).