Germany Eyes Teaming with Industry For Its Own Optical Satellie System

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BRUSSELS, Belgium — The German government is weighing whether to enter into a partnership with industry to build a multi-satellite, high-resolution optical system for German military and civil use that would lessen France’s European domination of space-based optics, German government and industry officials said.

The two- or three-satellite High-Resolution Optical System, or Hi-ROS, would be the next logical step in Germany’s development of optical satellite systems. While best known for its radar systems — the five-satellite military SAR-Lupe constellation is in orbit, as is the TerraSar-X civil-military satellite whose twin, TanDem-X, is scheduled for launch in December — Germany has been quietly developing its own optical capability.

The most recent product of the work, co-financed by Astrium GmbH of Ottobrunn and the German space agency, DLR, is the optical imager for South Korea’s Kompsat-3 satellite slated for a 2011 launch. The Kompsat-3 payload, which will provide a ground resolution as sharp as 70 centimeters, has recently been completed by Astrium and is expected to be shipped to South Korea in the coming weeks for integration onto the satellite’s platform.

Hi-ROS would take that work further. Several system architectures are being debated, with a ground resolution of 50 centimeters — 2 meters in color — and an in-orbit service life of five years, depending on the orbit selected. The swath width would be between 36 kilometers and 60 kilometers, again depending on the resolution.

The 820-kilogram Hi-ROS satellites would permit ground teams to send imaging requests up to 45 minutes before the satellite passes over the target area. Access to images would be available in certain circumstances as soon as several minutes after the target areas is imaged if the option is exercised to include a Ka-band data-relay terminal that would beam images to a satellite in geostationary orbit and then send it on to ground teams.

Germany is trying to line up support in the European Space Agency for a data-relay system that would speed reception of Earth observation data by beaming images from Earth observation spacecraft to geostationary-orbiting data-relay satellites, which would then send the data to ground teams, using German laser-optical data-relay terminals on board. (See related story, page 6)

German industry officials said it remains unclear whether the new coalition government under German Chancellor Angela Merkel will signal its support for Hi-ROS, which they say has the backing of Germany’s 

Federal Information Service (BND), the country’s intelligence agency, but not necessarily the German armed forces.

Building Hi-ROS would reshape the balance of power among European nations active in space-based reconnaissance at a time when the European Union, the European Space Agency and the European Defense Agency are trying to create a unified system for space-based observation for civil and military use.

 “France could see this as a provocation,” one industry official said, “but I think France understands that Germany would like to have the full range of capabilities.”

On the military side, five European nations are attempting to link Europe’s independent radar and optical satellite systems, first through agreements allowing mutual access to data, and then through development of a common ground segment, under a program called Musis, short for Multinational Space-Based Imaging System for Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Observation.

Germany and France have a bilateral agreement providing each access to the other’s military reconnaissance satellites. France is making available to Germany images from the French Helios satellites, and Germany is giving France access to SAR-Lupe. The French Defense Ministry has in its 2010 budget proposal the start of three Helios follow-on satellites.

France has a similar accord with Italy, which  provides France imagery from Italy’s Cosmo-Skymed radar satellites. Cosmo-Skymed and SAR-Lupe operate in different bandwidths.

Civil authorities are planning a broad Earth observation program called Global Monitoring for Environment and Security that is building its own set of radar and optical spacecraft, called Sentinels, but will also use individual nations’ systems.

The French contribution includes data from the orbiting Spot 5 satellite and the future two-satellite Pleiades spacecraft, which will be launched in 2010 and 2011.