Taiwan’s national space agency has hired Italian and German companies to assist in the design of a multimission Earth observation satellite platform, whose first application may be as part of the RapidEye commercial constellation scheduled for launch in 2007.

Carlo Gavazzi Space of Milan, Italy, and SpaceTech of Immenstaad, Germany, have formed a joint venture to assist Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSO) in developing the Argo satellite, which Taiwanese authorities plan to launch in 2008.

Under current plans, Argo would be inserted as a sixth satellite in the RapidEye Earth observation constellation managed by RapidEye AG of Brandenburg, Germany. The five primary RapidEye satellites are under construction by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of England and are to be placed into orbit aboard the Ukrainian Dnepr silo-launched vehicle.

“The signing of the contract with us is the first concrete step moving Argo forward,” Roberto Aceti, Carlo Gavazzi Space’s general manager, said in a Sept. 28 interview. “The satellite bus would be developed in Taiwan, whereas we have responsibility for system consulting and some of the on board avionics.”

C.Z. Frank Chen, chief scientist at Taiwan’s NSO — formerly known as the National Space Program Office — described Argo as the first in a series of planned Earth observation missions using small satellites developed domestically. In a Sept. 14 internal presentation on Argo that was subsequently published by the NSO , Chen said joining the RapidEye system will permit Taiwan to take part in a commercial venture.

RapidEye Director Wolfgang Biedermann said RapidEye has had discussions with NSO authorities but cautioned that no formal agreement on Argo’s insertion into the RapidEye system has been signed. “We would expect this to be a great enhancement to our system, but details need to be worked out,” Biedermann said Sept. 28. “We have certain requirements and we must be certain that a new addition does not disrupt our system.”

NSO’s Chen said that Argo, launched a year after the five RapidEye satellites, would require that four of the five RapidEye spacecraft be repositioned in orbit so that the resulting six-satellite formation is evenly distributed 60 degrees apart in the planned 620-kilometer orbit. Each satellite is expected to have a swath width of 77 kilometers and a ground resolution of 6.5 meters.

NSO already operates the Formosat-2 satellite, which was built by EADS Astrium of France and launched in mid-2004. Formosat-2 has a 2 -meter ground resolution — 8 meters for color imagery — and a 24-kilometer swath width.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.