PARIS — Two Israeli-built satellites — one a high-resolution optical reconnaissance spacecraft for the Italian military — will be launched together in early 2016 aboard a European Vega rocket, launch services providersaid Feb. 19.
Both will be placed into sun-synchronous orbits.
The Optsat 3000 reconnaissance satellite, built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) using a camera supplied by Elbit Systems’ Elop division under a $40 million contract, is expected to operate at about 600 kilometers in altitude. From this orbit its optical sensor would be able to detect objects as small as 50 centimeters in diameter when looking straight down. Optsat 3000 is expected to weigh 400 kilograms at launch.
The Israeli Space Agency’s Venus environment-monitoring satellite, built as part of a collaboration agreement with the French space agency, CNES, will be launched alongside Optsat 3000. The 300-kilogram Venus, to operate at 720 kilometers in altitude, will be integrated into Europe’s Copernicus environment-monitoring network.
The Italian Ministry of Defense agreed to purchase Optsat 3000 as part of a defense procurement arrangement involving Italian fighter-jet trainer aircraft. The purchase, when placed into the context of an Italian government program to field a made-in-Italy optical reconnaissance capability, illustrated how far European nations were from working together on a common space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system.
France has developed optical reconnaissance systems for more than 20 years, while Italy and Germany have developed radar surveillance systems.
Italy and France have agreed on a data-sharing arrangement that gives Italy access to French satellite imagery, but some Italian officials have said the accord overvalues optical images and undervalues the radar data.
Optsat 3000 operations will be managed by satellite services provider Telespazio of Rome. Operations will initially be conducted from Israel before being transferred to Italy’s Fucino Space Center. CGS S.p.A. of Italy, owned by Germany’s OHB AG, is the contracting authority for the Vega launch.
Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes