European Space Imaging GmbH (EUSI) expects to increase its sales by 30 percent in 2006 on the strength of robust European government demand for 1-meter color satellite imagery and the absence — for now — of a direct competitor for the product, EUSI Managing Director Adrian V. Zevenbergen said.

With the 25-nation European Union making high-resolution imagery a priority for its agricultural, humanitarian and security-related programs, EUSI forecasts that its current showcase product — blended color and black-and-white images from the Ikonos-1 satellite — will be a favored source of satellite data.

“I have been a little surprised” by the fact that competing companies have not done more to introduce 1-meter color imagery into their product portfolios, Zevenbergen said in a May 24 interview. “Right now, that is where the market is most dynamic and that is where we are.”

The company, which is owned by Space Imaging Middle East of Dubai, is independent of GeoEye of Dulles, Va., which in January purchased competitor Space Imaging and its Ikonos-1 satellite. EUSI, which issues commands directly to the Ikonos-1 once it appears on the horizon, expects sales this year to be around 15 million euros ($19 million), a 30-percent increase over 2005, a year in which sales also increased by 30 percent.

About a third of EUSI’s revenues come from the European Union’s executive commission, with some 40 percent derived from sales to NATO or individual European defense ministries or civilian mapping agencies, Zevenbergen said. Russia, which is also in EUSI’s assigned coverage area, is a growing market for civilian mapping projects, he said.

Including sales from Ikonos and its Orbview-2 and Orbview-3 optical Earth observation satellites, GeoEye reported that sales in 2005 were about $160 million.

EUSI announced May 23 that it had won a four-year contract with the European Union’s Joint Research Center to provide the EU with Ikonos and Orbview imagery. The contract is valued at 11 .4 million euros.

The commission expects to use the imagery for its agricultural subsidy-monitoring program and for humanitarian and security-related engagements. Jacques Delince, unit head of the Joint Research Center, said in a May 23 statement on the EUSI contract that since the commission started purchasing very high-resolution satellite imagery in 2003, this kind of imagery “has become the major data sources of the [European Commission] remote sensing controls of area-based subsidies.”

Registered in Germany and providing jobs there — with the German Aerospace Center, DLR, as an image-processing contractor — EUSI is able to present itself as a European company despite the obvious U.S. satellite connection.

The company has numerous competitors inside and outside Europe, including Spot Image of Toulouse, France; Eurimage of Rome; Infoterra of Germany and Britain; Israel’s Eros-B satellite; and the coming Pleiades high-resolution spacecraft from France and the RapidEye constellation in Germany.

Eurimage recently signed a contract with the Joint Research Center, valued at 7 million euros over four years, to provide high-resolution imagery from Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe‘s QuickBird satellite.

Zevenbergen said one advantage EUSI has over its current competitors is that it can blend an Ikonos 80-centimeter black-and-white image with the satellite’s 3.2-meter color pictures to create a 1-meter color image.

Another advantage of EUSI is that it can determine on its own what pictures Ikonos captures up until the last minute, collecting weather data to determine cloud cover before loading the commands on the satellite from Munich once Ikonos appears on the horizon.

In the months leading up to the January sale of Space Imaging to Orbimage Holdings, which now operates under the GeoEye brand name, Space Imaging affiliates in Europe, the Middle East and Asia weighed a buyout of their own.

These affiliates also considered whether to quit the Space Imaging relationship altogether. Zevenbergen said that GeoEye Chief Executive Matthew O’Connell and the rest of the new company’s management have brought a fresh perspective to the business and that EUSI currently has no intentions of going elsewhere.

“The company has become much simpler to work with” compared to the previous Space Imaging organization, Zevenbergen said. “Conversations are all business now; there is no more politics. Certainly we were talking to all the regional affiliates about possible options before. But the new team [at GeoEye] has a more non-nonsense approach.”

EUSI and the other GeoEye affiliates are now discussing the terms of a multimillion-dollar upgrade that each will incur to be ready for the higher-resolution GeoEye-1 satellite, scheduled for launch in February 2007. Zevenbergen said one difference between GeoEye and the previous Space Imaging practices is that GeoEye is not forcing its affiliates to select a particular hardware supplier for the upgrade, which is mainly to improve data processing to adapt to GeoEye-1’s higher imagery output.

GeoEye-1 is expected to produce imagery with a ground resolution of 41 centimeters. Like Ikonos, it will collect black-and-white and color imagery simultaneously.