Astrium Takes Control Of Spot Image

After more than a year of negotiation, Astrium agreed late last week to acquire most of French space agency CNES’s holding in Spot Image, giving it an 81% stake in the Toulouse-based optical imaging specialist with five subsidiaries and strategic agreements around the world. Spot Image will be integrated into the Earth Observation Div. of Astrium Services alongside Infoterra, a German-based radar imaging specialist with affiliates in France, the U.K., Spain and Hungary. However, it will remain an independent French company, and CNES will retain a small golden share.

By gaining control of Spot Image, said Astrium CEO Eric Beranger, EADS is now in a position to develop an integrated strategy for the full range of Earth observation services and applicationsalong the entire geo-information value chain. It will be able to develop and market combined optical-radar product offerings and, together with Astrium’s satellite telecommunications and navigation divisions, bundle services to address new markets. A top priority will be solidifying the company’s government and defense foothold in the U.S.

Spot Image CEO Herve Buchwalter said the shareholding change will reinforce the SpotImage’s ability to launch new programs under public private partnership funding schemes, as Infoterra has done with its TerraSAR-X and Tandem-X radar satellites. Specifically, the deal will permit development of a medium-resolution wide swath imager to replace the Spot 5 spacecraft. Spot 5 has been the bread and butter performer for Spot Image, providing the majority of its revenues and helping drive steady sales growth.

Early design of the Spot-5 follow-on, which is currently known under the code name Astroterra but will eventually be called Spot 6, was kicked off early this year pending conclusion of the shareholding agreement.

Astrium officials say CNES will provide no financing for the spacecraft, suggesting that the PPP arrangement will include some sort of French government presales guarantee. Taking advantage of progress in miniaturization, the new spacecraft will use Astrium’s Astrobus 250 imaging satellite bus, designed for satellite significantly smaller than Spot 5.

Spot Image is already participating in a PPP initiative for a pair of high-resolution companion spacecraft, Pleiades, to be launched in the first quarter of 2010 atop a Soyuz booster from Kourou, French Guiana. Pleaides will offer 70 cm multispectral resolution over a 20 km swath, making it a perfect complement to Spot 6.

Spot Image also has strategic agreements that give it access to several other advanced imaging satellites. These include Taiwan’s two-meter resolution Formsat-2 and Koreas’s Kompsat-2, which has a resolution of one meter.

Article by Michael Taverna

Author: EARSC

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