Germany’s Infoterra GmbH, its business plan made more solid by the German government’s approval of a second high-resolution radar Earth-observation satellite, expects to generate between 180 million and 230 million euros ($232 million-$297 million) in revenues in the next five years by selling imagery mainly to government civil and military agencies worldwide, according to company officials.
Friedrichshafen-based Infoterra, a subsidiary of Astrium Satellites, expects to begin proving its business model starting in January following the scheduled late-October launch of the TerraSar-X satellite aboard a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket.
TerraSar-X will have a ground resolution of about 1 meter and also will carry a separate laser communications payload to test high-speed links with another low-orbiting satellite — the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s NFIRE spacecraft .
Infoterra’s business received a fresh signal of confidence and a qualitative boost May 17 with the agreement between the German Aerospace Center, DLR, and Astrium Satellites to build a nearly identical second satellite, called TanDem-X, for launch in 2009.
In addition to providing data continuity for TerraSar-X, TanDem-X will permit Infoterra to add three-dimensional imagery to its product line. Infoterra officials believe that many governments will order digital elevation models of their territories, a product that will be easily assembled using data collected by TerraSar-X and TanDem-X flying together.
Like its predecessor, TanDem-X is financed by a private-public partnership. Ludwig Baumgarten, DLR’s director of space programs, said TanDem-X is budgeted at about 145 million euros, of which DLR’s operational and research divisions together are paying 105 million euros. Industry partners, mainly Astrium Satellites, are financing the remaining 40 million euros.
The TanDem-X budget also includes 3 million euros expected to be provided by owners of payloads flying piggyback aboard the satellite.
Hubert Reile, head of space projects and research at DLR, said a laser communications terminal may fly on TanDem-X. In an interview here May 17, he said DLR’s preference is that a TanDem-X laser payload be designed to communicate with a satellite in geostationary orbit. Several geostationary communications satellite options are being considered, he said.
In a DLR press briefing here during the ILA 2006 Berlin air show, Rei le said that with two high-resolution radar satellites in orbit, “Germany will be a world power in this technology. We will in some cases know more about the territories of some countries than those countries’ own governments know,” he said.
For Infoterra, the goal is to sell those governments this kind of information. Under the arrangement with DLR, Infoterra is obliged to generate sufficient revenues over five years to be able to manufacture and launch another TerraSar-X satellite in addition to covering its own operating costs.
Nikolaus Faller, Infoterra chief operating officer, said May 17 that the replacement cost of the satellite is estimated at 100 million euros.
“The DLR and Astrium decision on TanDem-X is a real expression of confidence in our business case,” Faller said in a May 17 interview. “It sends an important message to our potential customers.”
In experimental mode, the two radar satellites will be capable of detecting objects 60 centimeters in diameter. But Andreas Kern, TerraSar-X business executive, said the company’s guaranteed resolution to customers is 1 meter.
Infoterra is piggybacking in part on the global sales network developed by Spot Image of Toulouse, France, which has Astrium Satellites as a 40 percent shareholder. Spot Image markets imagery collected by the French government’s Spot optical satellites and has struck regional marketing agreements for other satellites as well.
Infoterra will use some of Spot Image’s regional sales partners, but in some countries, such as Japan, it has elected to team with new partners. Japanese aerial photography specialist Pasco will market Infoterra’s radar products in Japan, while Beijing Spot Image, an existing Spot Image subsidiary, will be Infoterra’s sales agent in China.
Kern said Infoterra has not yet selected its partners in North America.
Infoterra’s competitors in the growing field of commercial radar imagery include MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates of Canada, whose Radarsat-1 satellite is in orbit, with Radarsat-2 scheduled for launch in December; and Italy’s Cosmo-Skymed system, a civil-military project whose first satellite is scheduled for launch late this year or early in 2007.
The three competitors offer different ground resolutions and swath widths, with TerraSar-X occupying a place between the two others.
Infoterra views the German Defense Ministry’s SAR-Lupe radar satellite system, scheduled for a first launch late this year, as a system that may stimulate the appetite of prospective customers. SAR-Lupe will offer higher-resolution imagery but will not be able to produce as many images per orbit as TerraSar-X and TanDem-X.
“To the extent that some allied governments may eventually have access to SAR-Lupe imagery, it will be an appetizer for them,” Kern said. “We think it can help our sales.”