RENNES, France —
The successful June 7 launch of Italy’s first radar reconnaissance satellite and the planned July 1 launch of Germany’s second radar spacecraft will usher in an era of unprecedented cooperation among those two countries and France, and form the foundation of a pan-European space-based reconnaissance effort, according to officials from all three nations.
France’s Helios-2 optical and infrared reconnaissance satellite will provide images to the Italian and German defense ministries and will receive an equivalent amount of imagery from Italy’s Cosmo-Skymed satellite and Germany’s SAR-Lupe spacecraft.
Adm. Roberto Leonardi, the Cosmo-Sky
med program manager at the Italian Defense Ministry, said Italy’s cooperation accord with France on satellite data sharing will be put into effect once the first Cosmo-Skymed satellite is operational. That is expected to occur in about six months, Leonardi said in a June 6 interview.
Cosmo-Skymed, unlike Helios and SAR-Lupe, is a dual-use civil-military satellite. Leonardi said Italian military authorities financed about 25 percent of the 1.05
billion euros ($1.41
billion) needed for the Cosmo-Skymed system, a figure that includes the development and launch of four identical Cosmo-Skymed satellites and their associated ground network.
“The current plan is that we will have about three months of in-orbit commissioning and then three months of test operations before we declare the satellite fully ready for use,” Leonardi said. “Once that occurs, our bilateral accord with France will take effect.”
Officials at France’s armaments-electronics center, operated here by the French Defense Ministry,
demonstrated June 8 test models of the software systems they are developing to be able to add radar capacity to their existing system for
data processing imagery from satellites with optical sensors. Testing of that
system is expected to be completed and
ready for use by French military services in October, said Nicolas Hue, Helios program manager at the French Defense Ministry.
The first Cosmo-Skymed satellite was placed into low Earth orbit by a commercial Boeing Delta 2 rocket
launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Another Boeing Delta 2 is scheduled to launch the second Cosmo-Skymed vehicle late this year or, given the vehicle’s crowded launch manifest for the U.S. government, early in 2008.
Ken Heinly, director of Boeing launch products and services, said June 5 that Boeing is still reviewing launch-range availability for the rest of the year. Boeing and Italian officials are in final negotiations for the launch of the third Cosmo-Skymed in mid- to late-2008, according to Heinly and SandroFagioli, the Cosmo-Skymed program manager at ThalesAlenia Space, the French-Italian satellite prime contractor.
The fourth and final Cosmo-Skymed was contracted separately and is still in development. Fagioli said it should be ready for launch in late 2009 but that a launch vehicle has not yet been selected.
The French-German arrangement involving Helios-2 and SAR-Lupe resembles the French-Italian setup but will take
place only after the second of the five planned SAR-Lupe spacecraft is operational. A similar arrangement is about to take
place between France and Germany. The first SAR-Lupe is in orbit and the second is scheduled for launch on a Russian Cosmos rocket in July.
Germany’s TerraSAR-X satellite, built with investment from the German Aerospace Center, DLR, and the Astrium-affiliated Infoterra GmbH commercial imagery company, is scheduled for launch
June 15. Infoterra will market TerraSAR-X imagery to commercial customers, but the principal markets are governments, according to Infoterra officials.
Completing the near-term European space-based reconnaissance tableau will be the Helios 2-B optical and infrared satellite, to be launched in 2009, and two French Pleiades high-resolution optical satellites to be launched in 2010 for military,
and commercial customers. Germany and Italy will have access to Pleiades.
Unlike France’s Helios and Germany’s SAR-Lupe, Cosmo-Skymed is a dual-use system that will be used for civil and commercial purposes. Italy’s Telespazio is the majority owner of a company called E-Geos, which will market Cosmo-Skymed imagery. The Italian Space Agency is a minority shareholder in the company.
Giuseppe Veredice, chief executive of Telespazio, said one of the early markets for E-Geos will be South America. Italy and Argentina already have
agreed to cooperate in the use of their respective radar satellites. Argentina’s space agency, CONAE, is overseeing development of two L-band radar satellites to complement the four Cosmo-Skymed spacecraft, which are in X-band.
“What we hope to do is create a service using combined radar and optical imagery for markets including the European Commission,” Veredice said in a June 6 interview. Telespazio built much of the Cosmo-Skymed ground infrastructure and Veredice said this experience should lead to other, similar business outside of Europe, in nations that have been pre-approved by the Italian Defense Ministry.
Cosmo-Skymed has several imaging modes. It is capable of recognizing objects as small as
80 to 90 centimeters in diameter, and as large as 100 meters in diameter depending on the user’s requirements. The swath width varies correspondingly –
10 kilometers for the sharpest images to identify individual objects, and 200 kilometers for lower-resolution images for wide-area surveillance.
Veredice said imagery sales would be permitted to about 1-meter resolution. Sales of any sharper imagery will need to be cleared with Italian defense authorities.
Cosmo-Skymed was built by ThalesAlenia Space, the French-Italian prime contractor headquartered in Cannes, France. The company has sold a similar X-band radar imager to the Korean Aerospace Research Institute for Korea’s Kompsat-5 satellite, also known as Arirang-5.