PARIS — Airbus Defence and Space will build the ground segment for France’s next-generation optical and infrared reconnaissance satellite system and maintain it for 12 years under a contract valued at 300 million euros ($400 million) and announced Jan. 23.
The contract, with France’s arms-procurement agency, DGA, follows a December 2010 contract with Airbus and satellite-payload developer Thales Alenia Space to build two satellites to succeed the current French Helios 2 reconnaissance spacecraft.
Valued at 795 million euros, the 2010 contract called for the first of the two satellites to be in orbit in 2016. DGA said Jan. 23 that the satellite’s launch, and the beginning of the 12-year service commitment, is scheduled “as from 2017.”
Airbus said the first satellite would be launched in 2017.
In what may be a triumph of hope over experience, DGA continues to refer to its next-generation reconnaissance satellite effort as MUSIS — Multinational Space-based Imaging System for Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Observation — in homage to what had been a plan to stitch together the ground operations of optical and reconnaissance satellites in several European nations.
Under the MUSIS idea, participating nations would contribute satellite capacity, ground gear or other assets to maintain a transnational network with satellite Earth stations located on these nations’ territory capable of accessing the entire satellite fleet. As was the case with failed efforts that preceded it, the goal was a pan-European network.
MUSIS collapsed following disagreement among the prospective partners over who would contribute what, under what conditions, and how these assets would be valued in terms of satellite tasking and other access rights.
For now, France and Spain are building separate optical reconnaissance satellites, while Germany, Italy and Spain have separate radar systems. These same nations, plus Britain, have separate military telecommunications satellites as well.
Spain has agreed that its Paz radar satellite, scheduled for launch this year, would be operated as part of a network with Germany’s civil/commercial TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X satellites. But there is no link between Paz and Germany’s current military SAR-Lupe or next-generation SARah radar spacecraft.
In a Jan. 23 statement on the ground-network contract, Francois Auque, head of Airbus Defence and Space’s Space Systems division — formerly Astrium Satellites — said the recent reorganization of Airbus’ space and defense units “made all the difference with our customer,” the French Defense Ministry. Auque said the ground network would be developed with defense electronics manufacturer Cassidian, which like Astrium has been merged into Airbus Defence and Space.
Airbus said Capgemini, CS and Magellium are subcontractors for the ground-network infrastructure.
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