TEL AVIV, Israel —
Almost as anxious as their Israeli counterparts for the success of Israel’s
newly launched TecSAR radar imaging satellite
are executives at Northrop Grumman Corp., who hope to parlay the lightweight spacecraft design
U.S. niche market for operationally responsive space systems.
An exclusive teaming agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) would allow Northrop Grumman to coproduce slightly-modified TecSAR clones – dubbed Trinidad – that could
be held in storage for launch by U.S. users at a mere 30
days notice. When the two firms announced their agreement last April, they stressed that implementation of the prospective launch-on-demand initiative was contingent upon the successful launch and operational performance of the Israeli spacecraft.
“We’ve already been engaging with a variety of folks in the executive branch, the legislative branch and in the user community regarding the cost-effectiveness and operational benefits inherent in this type of capability. But words are words, and
now we’re at the ‘show me’ stage,” said Jeff Grant, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman Space Technology’s national systems division in Redondo Beach, Calif.
He said the Jan. 21 launch marked “a critical milestone in the IAI-Northrop Grumman team moving forward in our efforts to generate enough interest in the United States to purchase one or more of these systems.”
He declined to specify how many modified TecSARs might be co-produced under the
initiative, but said
each satellite could be manufactured in about 28 months at a “very small fraction” of the cost of other U.S. radar satellites. “What we find very attractive is the short manufacturing and test timeline. Within two years, this satellite will be ready for launch by a very low cost launcher like the Minotaur,”
Grant said, referring to an ICBM-based launcher provided by
Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.
In a Jan. 23 interview, Grant said the commercial partners
need to wait for Lod-based IAI to complete all testing, certification and other activities demanded by its Israeli government customer. But following full validation and initial operation of TecSAR’s multi-mode, X-band radar imaging collection capabilities, Northrop Grumman hopes to begin receiving the data it needs to convince potential U.S. users of the benefits to be had from the system.
According to Grant
, preliminary plans call for the U.S. firm to invest in a mobile ground station modified to capture, receive, store and process TecSAR imagery
Grant said Northrop Grumman’s agreement with IAI does not permit the U.S. firm to task the satellite directly. However, Northrop Grumman has arranged to be able to capture imagery downlinked by the spacecraft.
“The plan is to actually demonstrate the satellite’s capabilities to prospective customers. We want to take the whole thing on the road and show it to people in the Pentagon, out [at U.S. Strategic
Command] in Omaha and other places,” said Grant.
He added, “If the Israeli satellite is as successful as we hope it will be – and if we are as successful as we expect to be in heightening awareness and generating excitement within our own user community – we’ll end up co-producing with IAI a constellation of these satellites for the U.S. inventory.”
Inbar, head of the Space Research Center at Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Studies, said IAI’s agreement with Northrop Grumman, once implemented, would provide a much-needed boost for Israel’s space industry.
“The American user community, like our own, has a lot to gain from TecSAR’s agility, modular design, low cost and high-resolution, wide-area imaging capabilities,” he said. “This satellite and the IAI-Northrop Grumman partnership could be the vehicle for translating the vision of operational responsive space into reality.”