OHB Taps Astrium To Build a German Radar Satellite and Launch it on a SpaceX Falcon 9

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PARIS — OHB AG of Germany on Sept. 18 contracted with its German rival, Astrium Satellites, to build the only phased-array radar reconnaissance satellite planned as part of the three-satellite SARah second-generation German military satellite system, Astrium announced.

The contract, valued at 344 million euros ($464 million), also covers the ground segment to be developed to handle the satellite’s data. OHB is building the other two SARah satellites and is managing the entire project under an 816 million-euro contract with Germany’s defense procurement agency, BAAINBw, signed in July. The contract also includes the launch of the satellite aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket as part of a longstanding launch reservation Astrium had with SpaceX.

The SARah system is scheduled to be operational by 2019 and will succeed the current five-satellite SAR-Lupe constellation, also built by Bremen-based OHB.

“This is the first time that Astrium is supplying an Earth observation satellite to the German Armed Forces — and … it will be equipped with the latest technology, namely the ultra-high performance active phased-array,” Astrium Services Chief Executive Evert Dudok said in a statement. Dudok is also head of Astrium Germany. 

“Not only will this significantly enhance the German Forces’ capabilities,” he said, “it also helps better position Germany industrially for the future.”

Astrium Services officials hope to use their work on the SARah satellite to offset what would otherwise be substantial nonrecurring engineering charges in the construction of a second-generation TerraSAR-X commercial radar Earth observation satellite.

Astrium officials have said they will wait until early next year, after the commercial introduction of a global digital elevation model produced by TerraSAR-X and its twin, TanDEM-X, before committing to the production of a new TerraSAR-X.

The company’s decision on a follow-on TerraSAR-X has been complicated by the fact that the German Aerospace Center, DLR, has said its cost-sharing agreement with Astrium for TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X will not be repeated.