MUSIS Ground System Deal Teeters on Edge of Collapse

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A multiyear effort by six European nations to develop a common ground segment for Europe’s next-generation optical and radar reconnaissance satellites is on the verge of collapse under the weight of bickering over issues including how a pixel of optical imagery should be valued compared with a pixel of radar data, representatives from several of the governments said.

Deadlines have been set in France and Italy for irrevocable decisions on how their national systems will be designed. To ensure data continuity to their armed forces, both nations have said they cannot delay decisions in the hope that the six-nation effort, called MUSIS — Multinational Space-based Imaging System — will move forward.

The six nations, in addition to France and Italy, include Belgium, Germany, Greece and Spain.

France is designing its next-generation optical reconnaissance system to succeed the current Helios 2 satellites in orbit. Italy has launched three of its four Cosmo-Skymed radar satellites — the fourth is to be launched late this year — and is beginning to design a follow-on system.

The German Defense Ministry has more time before committing itself to details for its second-generation SAR-Lupe radar constellation, while Spain’s Paz radar and Ingenio optical satellites are still in development but designed for a Spanish-only ground segment.

Besides the issue of the relative value of optical compared with radar data, the six nations have been unable to agree on who will contribute existing or planned assets, and who will contribute cash, to the MUSIS architecture.

Henry de Roquefeuil, military adviser to the president of the French space agency, CNES, said April 20 that France’s program deadline later this year cannot be extended because delays would increase the risk that the Helios successor is not available when the current Helios satellites are ready for retirement.

“For us it is impossible to envisage a gap” in service, de Roquefeuil said. “So keeping to this schedule is our top priority. But we are continuing to work for cooperation on the MUSIS project and there is still some time to design the ground segment.”

Rodolphe Paris, satellite project officer at the European Defense Agency — a part of the 27-nation European Union — suggested that European governments at a planned meeting of ministers this November focus on combining forces on Europe’s next-generation military telecommunications systems.

Sharing telecommunications satellite resources, Paris said, is a less-sensitive issue than sharing high-resolution satellite imagery. Without referring to MUSIS directly, Paris said that “If we want to bet on a winning horse — it is satcom.”

As is the case with space-based reconnaissance, European governments currently operate separate military telecommunications systems in Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Germany.