Jul 16, 2007

Thales Alenia Merging Satellite Platforms

Estimated Article Reading Time: 3 min.

Thales Alenia Space plans to merge its radar and optical observation satellites into a single product line that can be used for either mission, company officials said. As is the case now, export business will be sought by either the French or the Italian side of the company, depending on whether France or Italy has the best relations with the prospective customer.

For a Turkish optical observation program now being competed, Thales Alenia Space Italy is leading the bid, despite the fact that the French side of the company has experience in building optical systems.

For a more complicated program proposal made to three member nations of the GCC —both radar and optical satellites are being sought jointly by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — the company is proposing both the Italian and French satellite platforms in a bid led by its French side.

“What we expect is that within two years or so, there will be an integrated product line,” said Joel Chenet, Thales Alenia Space vice president for strategy and business development. “The basic platform that results will then be usable for multiple missions.”

The GCC program, called HudHud, is envisioned as a system including one high-resolution optical and one high-resolution radar satellite that can be tasked and operated independently by the three sponsor nations. Thales Alenia Space is working on plans for a similar system for Europe, in which several nations have independent, secure access to commonly owned satellites. Each nation thus can order imagery without having to disclose its intentions to the other partners.

The French and Italian divisions of Thales Alenia Space, mainly on the strength of European government programs, are accumulating a flight heritage of their Proteus and Prisma satellites, respectively.
Three French-built Proteus satellites —two for Earth observation, one for astronomy— have been launched, and two more Earth-observation spacecraft are under construction. A sixth Proteus platform is likely to be contracted in 2008 for the third Jason ocean-altimetry mission.

On the company’s Italian side, the Prisma platform is being used for the four Cosmo-Skymed high-resolution radar satellites and for Canada’s Radarsat-2 spacecraft. Prisma also is being used for the recently contracted Sentinel-1 radar observation mission for the European Space Agency.

The Cosmo-Skymed development was key to South Korea’s decision to select Thales Alenia Space to provide the radar payload for South Korea’s Kompsat-5 satellite, now in development.
The company’s near-term goal is to merge the best elements of Proteus and Prisma platforms into a single product that would then be adapted given the payload requirements of the mission.
Chenet told reporters here July 5 that Thales Alenia Space is adapting elements of Proteus and Prisma for the 48 low-orbiting communications satellites it is building for Globalstar, Milpitas, Calif.

Chenet said the company is almost certain to bid for the contract from Iridium Satellites LLC, Bethesda, Md., to build that firm’s 66 second-generation satellites.

The HudHud system, for which Telesat Canada has been acting as a technical adviser, has been debated by the three GCC countries planning it for more than two years. Raytheon and Thales Alenia Space have made it to the final round, but industry officials said no one can predict when —or if— a contract will result.

The HudHud radar satellite would operate in X-band and carry an active phased-array antenna that would shift between standard and high-resolution modes, much as the Cosmo-Skymed satellites can do.

The first Cosmo-Skymed was launched June 7 and is undergoing initial in-orbit testing. The next Prisma radar satellite to be placed into operation is likely to be Canada’s Radarsat-2, tentatively set for launch this fall.

By PETER B. De SELDING, CANNES, France