Airbus Sells In-orbit Spot 7 Imaging Satellite to Azerbaijan

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LUXEMBOURG — Airbus Defence and Space has agreed to sell its Spot 7 medium-resolution optical Earth observation satellite, which just finished in-orbit checkout, to Azerbaijan’s Azercosmos space agency as part of a long-term partnership in commercial remote sensing, Airbus and Azercosmos announced Dec. 2.

As part of the unusual agreement, whose financial terms were not disclosed, Azercosmos has taken title to Spot 7, renamed it Azersky and has been given preferred-access rights to the orbiting Spot 6 to market the satellites’ imagery in Azerbaijan and surrounding regions in South Asia.

Airbus will build a satellite control center in Azerbaijan and will train a team of more than 25 Azeri engineers in France during the next 18 months.

Airbus retains preferred marketing rights to Spot 7 beyond Azerbaijan and the Azercosmos marketing area.

The agreement was signed in the Azeri capital of Baku in the presence of the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, who was there for the acquisition of the first commercial image from Spot 7, which was launched in July and has been undergoing in-orbit tests since then. A Franco-Azeri summit earlier this year set the stage for the Earth observation partnership.

Azercosmos officials have said their agency, which began operating its first telecommunications satellite in 2013, includes telecommunications and Earth observation development in its mandate.

Unlike the first five Spot satellites, the French government did not help finance the development and launch of Spot 6 and Spot 7. Airbus officials said they spent 300 million euros ($375 million) building and launching the satellites, which are now used as part of a four-satellite constellation that also includes two Pleiades high-resolution spacecraft.

Spot 6 and Spot 7 are identical spacecraft capable of producing images with a ground resolution of 1.5 meters in diameter. The two Pleiades satellites, which were financed by the French government but to which Airbus has access for its commercial business, are capable of generating images with a 70-centimeter resolution when looking straight down, and 50 centimeters after resampling.

Airbus spokesman Bruno Daffix said Dec. 3 that Airbus retains responsibility for marketing Spot 7/Azersky imagery outside the preferred distribution area in South Asia carved out for Azercosmos.

Azercosmos has expressed interest in its own high-resolution optical Earth imaging satellite, but agency officials and Airbus have said there is no automatic link between the cooperation agreement on Spot 6 and Spot 7 and a future Azeri satellite.

“This agreement … marks Azercosmos’ entry into the commercial Earth observation services business,” the agency said in a Dec. 2 statement. “This will strengthen Azerbaijan’s position among the limited number of countries rendering satellite services.”