July 16, 2012
Credit: Boeing file photo
Amy Svitak Farnborough
The lingering economic downturn and continued belt-tightening in Europe are not keeping governments here from all but scrapping the idea of collective investment in space-based reconnaissance.
Instead, Europe's largest space-faring nations—Germany, France, Italy and Spain—are each independently investing in optical and radar systems that add up to roughly €2.5 billion ($3 billion) in future spending and will duplicate one another's capacity.
Italy appears to be the latest example of Europe's inability to come together in space-based surveillance. Although it faces enormous budget pressures, the government is progressing with the purchase of optical imaging satellites on two separate tracks.
The first involves a high-resolution Earth-observation satellite, Opsat, to be built in Israel as part of an offset arrangement in a government-to-government exchange for Tel Aviv's purchase of Alenia Aermacchi jet trainer aircraft.
Aermacchi spokesman Stefano Somma says the jet trainer deal is in final negotiations and should be completed soon. He says the offset package is being worked out separately by the Italian and Israeli defense ministries.
In parallel, the Italian space agency ASI is starting design and development work on a separate high-resolution imaging satellite, dubbed the Optical System for Imaging and Surveillance (Opsis), which would feature Italian and German technology and operate alongside Italy's Cosmo-SkyMed radar constellation. ASI contracted with Compagnia Generale Per Lo Spazio, a subsidiary of OHB AG of Germany, for phase-B studies and to purchase a focal plane developed for the German Aerospace Center DLR. The 18-month predevelopment contract, valued at €13.5 million, is expected to lead to full development in 2015, says ASI President Enrico Saggese.
Opsis is projected to cost €100-150 million and weigh 700-800 kg (1,500-1,760 lb.). It is planned for launch in 2016 aboard Europe's Vega light launcher, in which Italy has a majority stake.