T he governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Turkey and South Korea have signaled their interest in optical and radar Earth observation satellites and have issued bid requests, or are preparing them, to satellite manufacturers, according to industry officials.

Satellite manufacturers in Europe, the United States, Russia and Israel are expected to compete for one or more of the expected contracts, officials said.

The satellites being sought have optical imagers with a ground resolution of less than 2 meters.

South Korea, which has a long-term Earth observation program that features radar and optical systems, recently selected Alcatel Alenia Space to provide the X-band radar instrument for its Kompsat-5, or Arirang-5, satellite. A contract award from the Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) is expected by the end of the month, with a launch tentatively scheduled for 2008.

Alcatel Alenia Space will be using technology developed for Italy’s Cosmo-Skymed radar satellite system, whose first satellite is scheduled for launch late this year as part of a dual-use civil/military program. The Cosmo-Skymed satellites have a ground resolution as low as 1 meter and as high as 100 meters, depending on scene size.

The German government and EADS Astrium’s German branch have jointly funded development of the TerraSAR-X X-band radar satellite, with ground resolution between 1 meter and 15 meters. The satellite is scheduled for launch in October aboard a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr launch vehicle.

Korean authorities have begun soliciting manufacturers to gauge their interest in building a high-resolution optical imaging system called Kompsat-3, or Arirang-3. As is the case with Kompsat-5, KARI will be seeking only certain payload components for Kompsat-3.

Three Persian Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — have joined forces as part of the Gulf Cooperation Council to solicit bids for two satellites, one radar and one optical, according to industry officials.

It is not the first time those three Gulf governments have expressed an interest in satellite Earth observation. However, previous attempts to win a consensus inside the government bureaucracies regarding what to purchase, and from whom, have failed.

One industry official said that may recur this time around. “They may not be able to get to the end of the process with a contract,” this official said. “But the fact is, a contract of this nature is too attractive for companies in the business to ignore.” A formal request for proposals has been issued, two officials said.

Egypt also has shown renewed interest in an optical reconnaissance system with satellites capable of detecting objects as small as 1 meter in diameter, industry officials said. It remains unclear whether all the prospective bidders will be given the go-ahead from their home governments to supply this technology. Up to now, European governments have agreed to export 2-meter optical systems.

The Turkish government, which has toyed with the idea of an optical and radar satellite system for years, is likely to issue industrial bid requests for an optical-only satellite late this year. The Turkish Undersecretariat for Defense Industries has included a satellite reconnaissance system, called E-39, on its hardware-purchase to-do list, saying the system could be used for military surveillance and environmental monitoring.

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