The Swedish government is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether to begin work on an optical surveillance satellite for government military and civilian uses, a decision that would place Sweden at the table of European governments with satellite imagery to exchange.

The satellite, tentatively called Svea, would piggyback on the development of Sweden’s Prisma science satellite, employing the same platform to keep costs down. Prisma is scheduled for launch in 2008. Preliminary estimates are that Svea could be built by Swedish companies and launched by the Russian/Ukrainian Dnepr rocket for a total cost of around 300 million Swedish krona ($38.1 million), including three years of operations, according to estimates made by the Swedish Space Corp. A similar sum would be needed to hire image analysts and develop a basic ground-reception network in Sweden.

Operating in near-polar low Earth orbit, Svea would have a ground resolution of 1.2-1.5 meters and a field of view of between eight and 12 kilometers in diameter. It would carry a 4-gigabyte on board memory and would be capable of swiveling on its access 45 degrees to either side for off-nadir imaging to reduce the time needed to revisit an area of interest.

If it can keep the cost modest, Sweden would become the fourth European nation, after France, Britain, Italy and Germany, to decide that having its own, autonomous satellite reconnaissance system is of strategic value.

Sweden is a longtime junior partner in France’s civilian Spot optical observation satellites and recently decided to take a small ownership stake in the French Pleiades optical imaging spacecraft scheduled for launch in 2008-2009.

The Swedish Armed Forces, conscious of the fact that small satellites’ capabilities are growing and their costs declining, in May asked the Swedish Defense Ministry to include preliminary design work on a Svea-type satellite in its 2006 planning. Sweden has agreed to become part of the European Union’s rapid reaction military force as part of one of several battle groups being organized. Svea would be an asset for the Nordic Battle Group, and the satellite would permit Sweden to barter with other EU nations for their optical or radar imagery, according to Sven Grahn, vice president of the Swedish Space Corp.

Civil and military officials from several European nations in recent months have said that the governing principle for satellite reconnaissance among EU nations is that it is easier to exchange data than to share it.

Per Tegner, director-general of the Swedish National Space Board, said here Dec. 12 that it is too early to determine whether Svea will win final government support. But he said the economics of satellite production and operations has changed substantially in recent years, bringing such technology to within reach of nations that up to now could not afford it.

Despite a relatively modest space budget of around $100 million a year, Sweden has been able to produce its own scientific satellites at a rhythm of one every three or four years since the mid-1980s. Most recently, Sweden was prime contractor for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Smart-1 satellite, which tested electric propulsion technology as it orbited the Moon. Smart-1’s orbit is now steadily degrading, and it is scheduled to crash onto the lunar surface on Aug. 16, 2006.

Swedish industry is under contract to build the two-satellite Prisma system to test technologies needed for satellite formation flying and in-orbit rendezvous. ESA views these technologies as necessary for future large scientific satellites.

At a one-day conference here Dec. 12 on French-Swedish cooperation, CNES space exploration manager Richard Bonneville said the French contribution to Prisma would center on a radio-frequency subsystem for precision measurement, collision avoidance and target-satellite acquisition.

Christer Nilsson, head of industrial relations at the Swedish Space Corp., said Prisma also would demonstrate an autonomous guidance, navigation and control system for maneuvering one Prisma satellite around the other in close proximity.