A Peek at Astrium's Earth Observation Cleanroom in Toulouse


EADS Astrium gave us a tour of their Earth-observation clean room in Toulouse Oct. 8, where the company's medium-resolution Spot 7 satellite is undergoing integration ahead of environmental testing next year. The commercial Earth-imaging spacecraft and its twin, Spot 6, weigh around 720 kg each and offer 2.2-meter-resolution imagery that can be resampled to 1.5 meters.

Jean Dauphin, head of Earth observation and science at Astrium France, says Spot 7 is expected to be in orbit by 2014, though a launch vehicle is yet to be announced. Spot 6 launched in September atop India's PSLV rocket, and is already sending back stunning color images from its 700 km orbit (stunning images which I am regrettably unable to load).

Together, Spot 6 and Spot 7 will form a constellation of Earth-observation satellites with highly responsive sensors covering an imaging swath of 60 km. They will replace the much larger Astrium-built Spot 5, a 3,000-kg spacecraft launched in 2002 that is operating well beyond its intended service life, and which is expected to remain operational to 2015.

Spot 6 and Spot 7 will be spaced 180 degrees apart on the same orbit as the French Pleiades constellation – a complementary pair of Earth observation satellites, dubbed Pleiades 1A and Pleiades 1B, that offers 50-cm resolution over a 20-km image swath and the ability to rapidly swivel off nadir to capture images in tri-stereo.

Together, the four spacecraft will combine wide-area collection with the ability to image and revisit point targets the same day. Although Astrium does not own the Pleiades constellation, its GEO-Information Services division has exclusive rights to sell Pleiades imagery on the commercial market. When combined with Astrium's Spot 6 and Spot 7 offering, the company will bring a robust optical imaging product to a market currently dominated by U.S. competitors Digital Globe and GeoEye, which are in the process of merging.

Built by Astrium and Thales Alenia Space under contract to the French space agency CNES, Pleiades 1A and 1B suffered a series of delays during hardware development. Initially slated to launch in 2008 and 2009, respectively, Pleiades 1A was not lofted to orbit until December last year.

During our cleanroom tour, Dauphin gave us a glimpse of Pleiades 1B, which is ready to be packed up and shipped to Kourou, French Guiana, for launch atop a Soyuz rocket Dec. 1.


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