Updated April 25 ar 1:44 p.m. EDT

PARIS — The Peruvian Defense Ministry on April 24 agreed to purchase, for $211 million, a high-resolution optical reconnaissance satellite from Airbus Defence and Space following a bilateral agreement with the French government, the French Defense Ministry announced.

The agreement calls for the satellite to be launched in 2016 and for France to provide, in addition to the satellite, the ground network, a data processing center and training to Peruvian Defense Ministry technicians in satellite operation and image analysis.

France and Airbus have also agreed to give Peru, starting now, privileged access to the constellation of four optical and two radar observation satellites now in orbit, including two high-resolution Pleiades dual-use satellites whose performance is similar to the Peruvian spacecraft.

During an April 24 press briefing in Lima, Peruvian Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano and Carlos Rodriguez, head of air operations in the ministry’s general staff, described in detail how they evaluated four bids for the Peruvian satellite system.

Technical specifications were given priority over financial concerns in the evaluation, they said. Having a ground-sampling distance sharper than 1 meter — meaning a satellite can detect objects that large and larger — was a key characteristic, they said.

In an illustration of what mattered to the Peruvian Defense Ministry, they said 7 percent of the technical score would be based on how quickly the satellite could swivel on its axis to capture off-nadir imagery.

In the end, they said, the Airbus/France bid — the officials said they wanted the involvement of the contractors’ governments — was given a combined technical and economic score of 72 points.

In second place was Israel Aerospace Industries, with 68 points. In a bid that might be surprising some, Deimos of Spain came in third place with a score of 56 points, with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of Britain in fourth place with 51 points.

It could not be immediately determined whether the Deimos and SSTL bids included satellites with a submetric-resolution capability.

The Peruvian officials said some 50 Peruvian engineers would be trained by Airbus so that when the satellite is launched in 2016, Peru has personnel capable of operating it. 

Cateriano said the Airbus contract is valued at 597 million Peruvian sols, or $211 million. The French Defense Ministry, in announcing the deal April 24, said it was valued at about 150 million euros.

Cateriano expressed frustration that too many in Peru want to compare the new satellite to Chile’s SSOT satellite, also built by Airbus Defence and Space, which was launched in December 2011. He said the Chilean spacecraft, with a 1-meter ground-sampling distance, was less precise than Peru’s, and that Peru could now lay claim to ownership of Latin America’s highest-resolution satellite.

“There is this obsession in the press to comparing our satellite to Chile’s,” Cateriano said. “You cannot easily compare these things. But the fact is that ours has more-modern technology, and with sub-metric resolution you can see more details than you can with a satellite with a one-meter resolution.”

Border patrol, the fight against contraband flowing into Peru, disaster management and national sovereignty will all be strengthened with the new spacecraft, Cateriano said. He alluded to possible commercial applications as well, but did not elaborate.

Airbus officials had said in late 2013 that 2014 could be the breakout year for high-resolution satellite sales. A two-satellite agreement with the United Arab Emirates is about to be concluded after several differences with the U.S. government on U.S. technologies inside the satellites. 

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian traveled to the United Arab Emirates the week of April 24 to assure that the contract, called Falcon Eye, remained on track despite a missed deadline by Airbus and partner Thales Alenia Space in securing U.S. export approval.

Morocco has agreed to purchase a similar pair of spacecraft in a contract that has not been announced formally.

Now comes Peru with the purchase of a satellite with performance, as will the Falcon Eye and Moroccan satellites, similar to that of France’s Pleiades spacecraft, used for military and civil/commercial purposes, which have a resolution as low as 70 centimeters after image resampling.

“The project will give Peru a capacity to enhance its sovereignty and security with the assistance of France, which will oversee the execution of the contract as per the [bilateral government] accord,” the French Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes


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