Telespazio Awarded $200 Million Contract for Italian Spy Satellite

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PARIS — Telespazio of Rome will provide a high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite to the Italian Ministry of Defense under a contract valued at more than $200 million, with the satellite to be manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and launched in 2015, Telespazio and its parent company, Finmeccanica, announced July 19.

Under the contract, Telespazio will oversee the construction of the Optsat satellite by IAI. Telespazio will build the satellite’s ground network and will be responsible for its launch and early operations, the company said.

Finmeccanica did not detail what portion of the contract would be spent purchasing the IAI-built spacecraft, which is expected to weigh about 300 kilograms at launch — small enough to be orbited by the Italian-led Vega rocket from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Industry officials had said the satellite, expected to have a ground sampling distance of about 50 centimeters, would cost between $100 million and $150 million.

As expected, the contract was signed as part of an offset arrangement between the Italian and Israeli defense ministries that includes the sale to Israel of 30 Alenia Aermacchi M-346 trainer jet aircraft. This contract is valued at about $1 billion, of which $600 million will go to Aermacchi, Finmeccanica said.

Also part of the agreement is a $41 million contract with Italy’s Selex Elsag, a unit of Finmeccanica, to provide flight control systems for the trainer aircraft.

The purchase of the Optsat satellite has caused some friction with France, which under an informal and nonbinding understanding has been the sole provider in Europe of high-resolution optical imagery for surveillance uses. Italy and Germany both operate radar satellite constellations and trade radar data in exchange for French optical imagery.

Now Italy will join Spain as an owner of both radar and optical satellite systems. Spain’s Ingenio optical and Paz radar satellites are in final construction.

Telespazio is majority-owned by Finmeccanica, with a minority share held by France’s Thales Group.

 

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