Plans to launch a four-satellite constellation of radar-surveillance spacecraft were announced at IDEX in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. The GulfSAR (synthetic aperture radar) satellites will be supplied by Thales Alenia Space and based on the design of Italy's new Cosmo-SkyMed craft, and will work in conjunction with a new state-of-the-art ground control and image exploitation center to be constructed in Abu Dhabi.
The project is being funded and run via US-based 4C Controls, the UAE's Hydra Trading and Baynuna Aviation Service. Retired UAE Air Force Maj. Gen. Khalid Al Buainnain - a key figure in the expansion of the UAE air force - is an executive vice-president of 4C Controls and chairman of Baynuna. Hydra Trading is an investment company focused on defense and security and is owned by the Royal Group, which is controlled by the UAE's royal families. The first two satellites and the ground station are expected to cost $500 million.
The first two satellites are due to be launched in 2012 and the second pair in 2013. They will complement Cosmo-SkyMed because they will be launched into low-inclination orbits - the constellation's coverage will be limited to 43 degrees north and south of the equator, but within that region they will offer much higher revisit rates than the polar-orbiting Italian satellites. They will offer 1-meter-class resolution in spotlight mode.
High revisit rates, project leaders said in Abu Dhabi, mean that the satellites can be used for tasks such as shipping management and the monitoring of critical infrastructure as well as for classic defense reconnaissance missions. The orbital path will also suit customers in South East Asia, and the consortium expects to provide satellite services to government and civilian users worldwide.