Israel Aerospace Industries produces the Optsat 3000, an observation satellite. (Israel Aerospace Industries)
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ROME — Fourteen months after it agreed to buy the Israeli Optsat 3000 optical satellite, Italy has made plans to integrate the satellite’s imagery with data from its Cosmo-Skymed radar satellite and is considering marketing the results as a package to other countries, a senior Italian defense official said.
Italy agreed to acquire the Optsat, built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), in July 2012. The official said Italy expects to launch it between November 2015 and December 2016. Separately, in 2016 and 2017, Italy expects to launch two Cosmo-Skymed second generation synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites, following the successful launch of four first generation variants.
“The second generation system differs from its predecessor in that it can be multi-sensor,” said the defense official.
As such, the system’s military imaging ground station at Pratica di Mare air base in Italy will be integrated with the Optsat 3000 ground segment, meaning operators can decide whether to use optical or SAR imagery for any given mission. Optical satellites are rendered less effective by cloud cover and darkness, while radar satellites can acquire imagery through clouds and at night.
The official said that Italian industry had already approached Peru about offering the Cosmo-Skymed second generation multi-sensor system for combined imagery and that the Italian Defense Ministry was mulling the marketing of the data.
Italian space services firm Telespazio is acting as prime contractor in the Optsat deal and will provide the ground segment, launch services, placement in orbit and operational and logistics work on the satellite. When the deal was announced, it was stated that the Italian MoD would sign a €200 million (US $270 million) contract with Telespazio, although the cost of the program was subsequently priced at €170 million in this year’s Italian defense spending document.
Telespazio — in which Finmeccanica holds a 67 percent stake and Thales the remainder — is already marketing imagery from the current generation of Cosmo-Skymed satellites, in which the Italian military has a share alongside Italy’s civil space agency.
In 2010, the firm was contracted by the Pentagon to supply it with SAR imagery from Cosmo-Skymed since the US lacked capacity. The firm was already supplying communications capacity from Italy’s Sicral 1B military satellite to the US military.
The Italian Space Agency and Telespazio have set up a joint marketing venture, E-Geos, to sell imagery from Cosmo-Skymed.
The 400-kilogram Optsat system, which is designed to remain operational for seven years, has undergone a critical design review in Italy. It was announced last December that Israel’s Elbit Systems would provide IAI with its Jupiter space camera to mount on the satellite. Manufacturer IAI claims the satellite’s low weight and compact size make it agile, allowing a very high number of images in one satellite pass.
Italy acquired the satellite as part of a deal under which Israel purchased 30 Alenia Aermacchi M-346 jet trainers to replace its A-4 Skyhawks, with the first delivery expected in mid-2014.
Under the deal, Italy also bought two Gulfstream airborne early warning aircraft from Israel.
The official said that any deal to sell Optsat data to export customers would be undertaken in accordance with Israel. “Israel will have a voice in this,” he said.
The decision to buy an Israeli optical satellite comes as Italy teams with France to share data from its optical satellites. Italy already shares Cosmo-Skymed radar imagery with France and in turn has access to data from France’s Helios II optical satellite.
Coming next is a deal to pool data from the second generation Cosmo-Skymed satellites and France’s planned Composante Spatiale Optique satellite.
That cooperation could form part of a planned, wider European cooperation deal on satellite data known as MUSIS. But the official said that despite the integration of Optsat data with Cosmo Sky-Med data, the former would not feed into any pan-European deal.
“Optsat would remain separate,” he said.
That begs the question whether Italy really needs Optsat when it will access French optical imagery or whether it was a necessary acquisition as part of the wider deal with Israel to secure the sale of the M-346 jet trainer.
But the official said Italy needs its own optical satellite. “We will have total access instead of just partial access,” he added.