On December 17, the new French very high resolution satellite Pleiades-1 was successfully launched from Kourou launch site (French Guiana). This 1 ton spacecraft was put into the morning 694 km sun-synchronous orbit and after orbital testing will start delivering color images of Earth surface at spatial resolution of up to 50 cm. The launch marked a new step in French-Russian cooperation: it is the second time when the Russian launch vehicle “Soyuz-ST” – the most reliable in the world - took off of the French site.
Representatives of the French Space Agency CNES, of the French Defence Procurement Agency DGA, of Astrium company and others witnessed the launch. Vice-President of ScanEx RDC Olga Gershenzon and Head of Content-Services Department of Yandex Andrei Strelkov were invited to take part in this launch as well. Russian Center ScanEx is the strategic partner of the European Astrium Geo-Information Services, ensuring starting from 2006 the reception of images from SPOT series satellites to the proprietary ground stations installed throughout Russia.
The principal advantages of the Pleiades-1 satellite launched on December 17 as compared to modern counterparts are: very high spatial resolution up to 50 cm, high geolocation accuracy (up to 4.5 m CE90 without GCPs), a wide swath of a scene (20 km, whereas the best US remote sensing satellites have 11-16 km of swath width), automatic generation of ortho-rectified 2nd processing level products within 30 minutes, possibility of multiple programming during a day, five imaging modes, including mapping of 100km x 100km areas and many more. A system of two satellites (Pleiades-2 launch is scheduled to 2012) will enable to do imaging of any area of the Earth within one day and will ensure high efficiency – up to 1 million sq.km.
The European EADS-Astrium consortium has been developing the Pleiades satellite since late 2003 together with Thales Alenia Space company (the optical system developer) covered by the 314 euro million contract. Part of the onboard resources of dual-purpose Pleiades satellites will be used by the French Department of Defense that took part in investment into the Pleiades dual-purpose program.
The “Soyuz-ST” launch vehicle put into orbit four more micro-satellites of electronic intelligence Elisa and the first Chilean military intelligence SSOT satellite along with Pleiades-1 during this multiple payloads launch on December 17. All spacecrafts were developed and produced at the EADS-Astrium consortium facilities.
In the nearest two-three years Astrium company plans to launch three new satellites (Pleiades 2 and SPOT 6/7) that will form a unified system on orbit ensuring the possibility to take images of any area twice a day at spatial resolutions from 0.5 to 1.5 m.
Currently, the sole suppliers of 0.5 m resolution images on the world market are the American GeoEye and DigitalGlobe companies. The appearance of a new supplier will promote faster development of the world geodata market.