Italian team to build satellite for European Commission’s Govsatcom project

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WASHINGTON — The Italian Space Agency on July 23 kick-started development of a communications satellite that Italy will share with other nations as part of the pan-European Govsatcom program. 

Under an agency contract, the value of which was not disclosed, Thales Alenia Space Italy will build the satellite with a consortium of Italian companies. Rome-based Telespazio is tasked with building the ground control system, running early satellite operations and supplying communications services to government users. 

Govsatcom is a European Commission program conducted with the European Defence Agency and European Space Agency. Its goal is to provide a middle tier of communications services between commercial satellites and “highly protected” military satellites. 

The European Defence Agency’s 15 member states plus Norway are participating in Govsatcom under the leadership of Spain. Italy’s satellite contribution, called Ital-GovSatCom, will be ready for delivery on the ground in five years, Thales Alenia Space said July 23 via email in response to questions from SpaceNews.

Thales Alenia Space said Ital-GovSatCom will weigh roughly 2,500 kilograms once complete, and will launch on Vega C, the next-generation light-lift launcher under development by Italian rocket builder Avio. The first flight of Vega C was planned for early 2020, though it is not clear what impact the July 10 failure of a current Vega rocket will have on that schedule. 

Vega C is designed to launch 2,200 kilograms to a 700-kilometer low Earth orbit — a far cry from the geostationary arc 36,000 kilometers up where Ital-GovSatCom is to operate. This is not the first time Italian officials have mulled using Vega C for a geostationary mission, however. In November, Italy’s Ministry of Defence said it was considering satellites around 2,000 to 2,300 kilograms so they would be small enough to launch on Vega C or the longer term Vega E and replace the now 10-year-old Sicral-1B satellite. 

Ital-GovSatCom will be used for applications ranging from defense and civil security to telemedicine and humanitarian aid, Thales Alenia Space said. Italian smallsat builder Sitael, the Airbus-owned company Space Engineering S.p.A., and a number of small- to medium-sized businesses will participate in building the satellite, the company said.