LE BOURGET, France — The German parliament is scheduled to meet the week of June 24 to approve a billion-dollar second-generation radar reconnaissance satellite constellation, with components to be provided by both of Germany’s satellite prime contractors, industry officials said.

Having waged a fierce battle for contracts in the past, OHB AG of Bremen and Astrium GmbH of Munich have agreed to divide responsibility for the three-satellite SARah constellation.

Astrium is set to provide one active-radar satellite, with OHB providing the two passive-antenna satellites for SARah, whose total cost has been estimated at around 800 million euros including the satellites’ construction and launch.

The German military today operates the five-satellite SAR-Lupe radar reconnaissance system, which was placed into orbit between 2006 and 2008 under a contract won by OHB.

If, as expected, the Budget and Defense committees of the German Bundestag approve the project, it will improve the likelihood that Astrium Satellites builds a second-generation TerraSAR-X civil radar observation spacecraft.

Astrium officials said the similarities between their SARah and TerraSAR-X 2 satellite designs are such that the investment required for TerraSAR-X 2 drops substantially if it can share costs with the SARah satellite.

TerraSAR-X was launched in 2007. The twin TanDEM-X satellite was launched in 2010, and the two satellites have been flying at several hundred meters’ distance to assemble a digital elevation model of Earth’s land surface. The resulting product, called WorldDEM, is scheduled for release by early 2014 pending German government guidelines on its sale.

Astrium and the German government have been negotiating for months on possible government participation in the second-generation TerraSAR-X. The revenue generated from the two in-orbit satellites has not matched expectations, leading Astrium to ask for government help in financing the follow-on. The current satellites were financed both by Astrium and by the German government.

Evert Dudok, president of Astrium Services, said the second-generation TerraSAR-X business model will be helped by an agreement Astrium struck earlier this year with MDA Corp. of Canada, which commercializes Canada’s Radarsat data.

MDA is prime contractor for Canada’s next-generation system, the three-satellite Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM), now under construction. Dudok said the cooperation agreement between the two companies calls for common direct image-reception stations so that users of the C-band RCM and the X-band TerraSAR-X 2 data will not need separate equipment.

Astrium Services also owns the Spot 6 optical Earth observation satellite, already in orbit, and is twin Spot 7, to be launched late this year aboard an Indian PSLV rocket.

The company has access to the French government-owned Pleiades high-resolution optical satellites and has some 200 optical Earth observation partners around the world with receiving stations to take down Spot imagery directly.


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Peter B. de Selding was the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews.