Hisdesat, Astrium Agree To Radar Imagery Partnership

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PARIS — The Spanish Paz civil/military X-band radar Earth observation satellite will be operated and marketed in concert with Germany’s civil TerraSAR-X radar satellite following an agreement between Spain’s Hisdesat and Germany’s Astrium Geo-Information Services, the companies announced.

The agreement could reduce pressure on Astrium and the German space agency, DLR, to agree on financing for a successor to TerraSAR-X, which has been in orbit since mid-2007. Paz is scheduled for launch in 2013.

The Hisdesat-Astrium linkup also means Astrium will not face a new competitor in what is already a difficult global market for radar Earth observation data.

DLR originally had told Astrium that a TerraSAR-X successor would need to be privately financed, with no DLR support. But TerraSAR-X data sales have been far less than forecast and DLR has said it now will take part in a second-generation system, if only to assure that it includes new technologies such as a ground resolution of less than 1 meter.

Astrium and DLR are expected to come to an agreement on a TerraSAR-X follow-on this year, which likely would mean a launch no earlier than 2015. TerraSAR-X was built with a contracted service life of five years, but its managers have said it should have no trouble operating until 2014 or beyond.

The nearly identical TanDEM-X satellite, also a product of a partnership between DLR and Astrium, was launched in 2010.

Spain’s Paz satellite, like TerraSAR-X, has an X-band radar instrument capable of producing images with a ground sampling distance as sharp as 1 meter.

Paz was financed mainly by Spanish military authorities, but Madrid-based Hisdesat was given Paz ownership and commercialization rights.

Hisdesat, the Spanish government’s satellite services manager, is 43 percent owned by commercial telecommunications satellite operator Hispasat, 37 percent by Spanish government agencies and 5 percent by Spain’s Sener. The remaining 15 percent is owned by EADS Casa Espacio, the Spanish division of Europe’s EADS aerospace conglomerate, which owns Astrium.

While the Spanish military has reserved a percentage of Paz imagery for its own use, “there is still a significant amount of [Paz] data available for the commercial market,” said Vark Helfritz, director of corporate development at Astrium Geo-Information Services.

In an April 26 response to Space News inquiries, Helfritz said Astrium and Hisdesat will jointly market Paz data.

“The constellation cooperation targets global service provisions,” Helfritz said. “Both satellites will operate under their respective national satellite data security and export laws and regulations, which may impose limitations in a few cases.”

To take advantage of the arrival of Paz and resulting increased data flow, the TerraSAR-X ground service segment and the stations receiving imagery directly from the spacecraft will be upgraded, he said.

The 1,400-kilogram Paz, which uses the same Astrium Satellites-provided platform as TerraSAR-X, is scheduled for launch in 2013 aboard a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket, a converted ballistic missile. It will be operated in the same 514-kilometer polar low Earth orbit as TerraSAR-X; the two satellites will be positioned to maximize the amount of terrain covered per day, according to Hisdesat.

As two satellite service companies operating in Europe, Hisdesat and Astrium Services have been eyeing each other warily for several years. In addition to the potential competitive threat posed to Astrium by the Spanish Earth observation satellites, Hisdesat and the Norwegian Defense Ministry have been negotiating the construction and launch of a mixed Ka- and X-band military telecommunications satellite to operate at 29 degrees east.

Hisdesat is also a major shareholder in Xtar LLC of Rockville, Md., which operates two X-band telecommunications satellites for Spanish and allied government customers but has had difficulty attracting customers.

Astrium Services owns and operates Britain’s Skynet military telecommunications satellites and has ambitions to expand its product offering.

In an April 27 response to Space News inquiries, Hisdesat Chief Operating Officer Miguel Angel Garcia Primo said that despite the delays, the Norwegian-Spanish Hisnorsat project is fully funded and preparing to select a contractor.

“We are in the past steps of the bidding phase for the space segment,” Garcia Primo said.