Optsat-3000. Credit: Israel Aerospace Industries

RIO DE JANEIRO — Israeli high-resolution satellite imagery provider ImageSat International suggested its long-delayed Eros-C satellite, now under construction at parent company Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), will equal the image sharpness of DigitalGlobe’s current 30-centimeter product.

Rani Hellerman, ImageSat’s vice president for business development, said that while most military user requirements can be satisfied with a 70-centimeter-resolution satellite such as ImageSat’s current Eros-B, the market is inexorably moving toward ever-higher-resolution imagery.

In an interview here during the Latin American Aerospace and Defense, or LAAD, exhibition, Hellerman declined to disclose the precise resolution of Eros-C, but said it “will be better than 50 centimeters, and as sharp as anything on the market now.”

In the race to the sharpest possible commercial imagery — and industry officials say sharpness is only one of many criteria needed for success in today’s market — Longmont, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe has the lead.

WorldView-3. Credit: Ball Aerospace

DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 satellite entered service in low Earth orbit last October, and in February the U.S. government approved the company’s request that 30-centimeter imagery be added to DigitalGlobe’s product portfolio.

For the moment, the other commercial imagery sellers are able to offer no better than 70-centimeter imagery. Airbus Defence and Space advertises a 50-centimeter product that is the result of resampling using two images from its Pleiades satellites imposed one onto the other.

IAI and ImageSat dismiss the resampling as not much more than a carnival trick.

“Anybody trained in image analysis knows that you’re not adding more information to the image by resampling,” Hellerman said. “We too can resample and call it 50-centimeter imagery.”

ImageSat operates two satellites. Eros-A, launched in December 2000 and nearing the end of its life, produces 2.1-meter-resolution imagery with an image swath width of 15 kilometers. Eros-B, launched in April 2006, offers a 70-centimeter image when looking straight down and a 7-kilometer swath width.

Eros-B/OptSat 2000. Credit: IAI

Eros-B, the company’s workhorse, operates at 510 kilometers in altitude and is expected to remain in service until 2022, Hellerman said.

IAI is under a $182 million contract, signed in July 2012, to build the 400-kilogram Optsat 3000 satellite for the Italian Defense Ministry. The satellite is scheduled for launch in 2016 aboard a European Vega rocket.

Without saying so directly, Hellerman suggested that Eros-C, whose launch date is unclear but not before 2017, will be a near-twin of Optsat 3000. He also said it would have a 10-kilometer swath width.

IAI’s takeover of ImageSat means the satellite builder is no longer tripping over the imagery provider in seeking international business that could end in the sale of a satellite or, as in the case of Brazil, the sale of imagery from Eros-B.

Brazil’s space agency has said the availability of high-resolution imagery on the commercial market is such that owning your own high-resolution spacecraft is not a necessary to maintain surveillance of illegal trafficking and border control.

ImageSat’s latest product is an Eros-B Mini-Terminal, a 1.5-meter-diameter mobile image-reception station that can be deployed in less than an hour. Customers signing on for long-term imagery-purchase contracts can structure deals in which they have access to all imagery taken as the satellite passes from horizon to horizon in the ground station’s line of sight.

With ImageSat now part of IAI, the latter company has the same freedom of movement as Airbus Defence and Space insofar as it can offer a customer imagery only, or a satellite, or a satellite that could be integrated into the ImageSat constellation to reduce revisit time.

It was this kind of integrated offer that helped Airbus win the contract to provide Peru with a submetric-resolution surveillance satellite, against IAI and other competitors.


Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.