— The French military Helios-2A reconnaissance satellite is known mainly for its high-resolution optical imagery, but its infrared sensor has produced better-than-expected data that is permitting the evaluation of the industrial capacity of the regions being observed, according to Col. ChristopheMorand, a Helios program officer at the French Joint Defense Staff.

“The infrared feature has been a real success and it’s more than just adding a nighttime capability,” Morand said. “It has given us a specific tool to evaluate the status of refineries. In fact we have been able to evaluate many industries that make extensive use of cooling systems.”

Belgium, Greece and Spain each have a 2.5 percent share of Helios-2, a two-satellite system whose first satellite, Helios-2A, was launched in December 2004. Italy and Germany also have access to Helios-2 imagery as part of bilateral agreements with France permitting French military access to German and Italian radar satellite data.

But Morand said the culture of image sharing and multilateral satellite tasking is slow to take hold despite the fact that Italy and Spain joined France in the earlier Helios-1 program, whose first satellite was launched in 1995, with a combined 21 percent share.

As the three Helios-1 partners have learned to trust each other over the years, they have increasingly shared Helios-1 satellite tasking. Currently 70 percent of Helios-1A imagery – Helios 1B has been taken out of service – is now ordered by at least two nations, Morand said.

That success has not been repeated on Helios-2A. No more than 2 percent of its images are ordered by two or more participating nations, Morand said. The rest are ordered by only one of the participants using encryption that keeps the information secret from the other nations.