Astrium Satellite Would Take 3-Meter Video from Geo Orbit


NAPLES, Italy — Astrium Satellites said Oct. 5 that after five years’ work, it is within reach of being able to manufacture a geostationary-orbiting Earth observation satellite offering persistent 3-meter resolution video for military and civil-security customers.

The company said technology development work remains before such a satellite is built, especially since the design effort up to now has been self-funded. Astrium has been shopping the idea to European governments for several years, with no luck so far.

In outlining the state of work on the company’s HRGeo project, Gil Denis, who works on advanced concepts at Astrium Satellites, said video of a given area at 3-meter resolution — this would be the satellite camera’s best resolution, at nadir — is still shy of what military customers want.

But two years ago, Astrium said it could do 10 meters at nadir, or when the camera is pointing straight down, and now it is at 3 meters.

Military officials have said they are willing to sacrifice some image quality in exchange for persistent video coverage of a given target area. Today’s Earth observation satellites, with the exception of wide-area meteorological spacecraft, typically operate in polar low Earth orbit.

These low Earth orbiting craft provide images with a resolution, or ground sampling distance, of well under 1 meter, with image swath widths of between 10 and 30 kilometers as they pass over areas of interest. Objects as small as 1 meter across can be discerned in 1-meter-resolution imagery.

The HRGeo satellite would operate at 36,000 kilometers in altitude over the equator, maintaining a fixed position over a given point on Earth.

Presenting the project here Oct. 5 at the 63rd International Astronautical Congress, Denis said an early application could be maritime surveillance on behalf of a group of governments.

Denis did not provide cost figures, but said the current iteration of the HRGeo design uses heritage from the 3.5-meter-diameter mirror on the European Space Agency’s Herschel infrared astronomy satellite. Herschel was launched in 2009.

For the HRGeo mission, Denis said the mirror would measure 4.1 meters by 5.1 meters and would weigh 1,200 kilograms. The satellite would carry a 350-kilogram sun shield and would provide 3.5 kilowatts of power using 18.3 square meters of solar arrays tilted at a 45-degree angle from the satellite’s body.

Built for a 10-year service life, HRGeo at launch would be 10.3 meters high and weigh 8,840 kilograms, providing a 100-kilometer-wide image swath.