About 25 Algerian aerospace engineers will be taking up residence here for 32 months as part of a contract between EADS Astrium and Algeria’s space agency for the production of two small high-resolution Earth observation satellites.

The Alsat-2 spacecraft will utilize the Myriade small-satellite platform and provide black-and-white images with a 2.5-meter ground resolution for the Algerian National Space Technology Centre . Launch of the satellite is scheduled to take place in late 2008.

The contract, announced Feb. 1, is the fourth high-resolution optical Earth observation spacecraft to be built by EADS Astrium for foreign governments. But the spacecraft built for Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea are larger and more expensive.

Alsat-2 is expected to weigh just 130 kilograms at launch. With a scheduled five-year service life, it will carry an onboard recorder with a 64-gigabyte capacity to permit Algerian authorities to collect imagery from regions out of line-of-sight contact with the Alsat-2 ground station.

Once Alsat-2 is launched, EADS will furnish components, including the principal imager and a second Myriade satellite bus, to Algerian authorities for integration at a new satellite-development facility in Oran, Algeria.

Michel Bouffard, director of Earth observation and science at EADS Astrium and director of the company’s operations here, said the Alsat contract should send a message to nations still concerned about satellite-procurement costs that an operational system can be purchased at affordable prices.

Bouffard declined to disclose financial details of the Alsat-2 contract, which EADS Astrium won in the competition with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Guildford, England, the world’s premier small-satellite specialist and the builder of the Alsat satellite currently in orbit.

The Surrey-built Alsat has a 32-meter ground resolution and is capable of taking only a few images per day. It is part of the Surrey-coordinated Disaster Monitoring Constellation.

“In the past, satellites of this size have been for special purposes including research or as part of a broader system,” Bouffard said Feb. 2. “Alsat-2 is a truly operational microsatellite. The fact that we are capable of delivering this now should stimulate interest in several nations that have been concerned about the cost of satellite hardware. There are nations coming to see us now that were not interested before.”

The governments of Turkey and Egypt have expressed an interest in purchasing their own Earth observation systems, although industry officials say these governments are likely to seek a satellite that more resembles the larger, 1-meter-resolution models ordered by the three Asian governments.

Taiwan’s Formosat-2 satellite, with a 2-meter imager, was launched in May 2004. The Korean Aerospace Research Institute’s Kompsat-2 satellite is scheduled for launch by the Euro-Russian Eurockot Launch Services GmbH company of Bremen, Germany, by mid-2006.

Thailand’s Theos satellite, also equipped with a 2-meter imager, is scheduled for launch by Eurockot in 2007. Some 230 Thai engineers have been trained in satellite-imagery analysis and satellite operations since 2000, in France and in Thailand.

The Alsat-2 contract illustrates the blurring of once-clear borders separating microsatellites for research and operational spacecraft. With Surrey Satellite Technology now also designing slightly larger satellites — the company built the just-launched Giove-A spacecraft for Europe’s Galileo navigation project — Surrey and EADS Astrium are likely to be in competition more frequently in the coming years.

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