A view through the clouds

First SAR-Lupe German reconnaissance satellite being launched on December 19, 2006

SAR Lupe
SAR Lupe

At 15:00:19 hours Central European Time on Tuesday, December 19, 2006, the first of a total of five SAR-Lupe reconnaissance satellites will be placed in orbit for the German Armed Forces onboard a COSMOS 3M launcher taking off from the Plesetsk space center. Developed and constructed by Bremen-based space technology company OHB-System AG, the satellite was transported to the Russian launch pad Plesetsk located south of Archangelsk at the beginning of last week, following extensive testing at the IABG satellite test center in Ottobrunn. At the moment, the final preparations are being completed for the upcoming launch.

The other four satellites, which will complete the system, are being launched in intervals of four to six months.

The SAR-Lupe system

SAR-Lupe is Germany’s first satellite-based reconnaissance system. It comprises five identical small satellites and a ground segment for managing the satellites and receiving and processing the radar images.

As the principal contractor of the German Federal Office of Defense Technology and Pro-curement (BWB), OHB-System developed the overall system and oversaw a consortium of well-known European space technology companies.

Due to the intelligent combination of existing technologies, SAR-Lupe will be operating night and day independently of weather conditions, delivering up-to-date high-resolution images from virtually all regions of the world. For this purpose, it will be orbiting at an altitude of around 500 kilometers from the surface of the earth. The total of five satellites will be positioned in three different, roughly polar orbits.

So called inverse tests have already been performed successfully on the ground at the Bremen site to demonstrate the satellite’s performance. Using a unique testing method, the satellite was aligned to objects in space, such as the International Space Station ISS, from the ground and high-resolution images made of these orbiting objects. Once in operation, the satellite will be used in the opposite direction. The targeted resolution was achieved in all test sequences. To ensure the availability of comparative data, radar images were collected at the same time by research institute Forschungsgesellschaft für Angewandte Naturwissenschaften (FGAN).

Main characteristics of a SAR-Lupe satellite

The satellite comprises a satellite bus and the radar payload. With the special bus, the sat-ellite can be aligned with great precision to a specific location on the ground via its three-axis stabilization.

The image data are collected by use of a parabolic antenna firmly linked to the satellite bus. A special recording method, known as synthetic aperture radar or SAR for short, generates high-resolution images from the radar data.

SAR-Lupe – main characteristics

Number of satellites: 5, identical
Mean altitude: approx. 500 km, optimized
Orbit inclination: approx. polar, all
Number of orbit planes: 3
Dimensions: approx. 4 m x 3 m x 2 m
Weight: approx. 720 kg
Average power consumption: approx. 250 W
Life time in orbit: 10 years
Customer German Federal Ministry of Defense, Berlin/ Bonn
German Federal Office of Defense Technology and Procurement, Koblenz
Mission: to generate high-resolution SAR (synthetic ap-erture radar) images for military reconnais-sance purposes

COSMOS 3M launch vehicle

OHB-System AG has been working very successfully with Russian space travel company POLYOT, Omsk, since the beginning of the nineties. Entailing the use of Russian launch vehicles for various small OHB satellites, these successful joint activities culminated in the establishment of a company named COSMOS International Satellitenstart GmbH. The COSMOS launch vehicles were developed by POLYOT back in the sixties and have proven themselves in over 760 launches. With a success rate of over 97%, it is one of the world’s most reliable launch systems. The COSMOS launch vehicle is ideal for transporting small satellites to low-orbit positions.

The tip of the rocket, known as the fairing, has been modified to accommodate the broad parabolic antenna of the SAR-Lupe satellites, and achieved qualification in a successful demonstration launch in January 2005.

Main characteristics of the COSMOS 3M launch vehicle

Integration method: horizontal
Mass at launch: up to 109 metric tons
Length: 32.4 m
Rocket diameter: 2.4 m
Payload mass: up to 1,500 kg
Payload fairing: 2.2 m standard diameter
Orbits: 250 – 1,700 km

SAR-Lupe as part of the European Reconnaissance System

SAR-Lupe will be forming part of the European Reconnaissance System. Under the ESGA project (German acronym for “Europeanization of Satellite-Based Reconnaissance”), which is being co-financed by Germany and France, OHB-System is creating the technical basis allowing France to use the German SAR-Lupe radar system. In return, Germany will be able to access the French optical HELIOS II system. The utilization of both satellite systems together marks a preliminary milestone in European strategic reconnaissance. The defense ministries of France and Germany signed a treaty to this effect at a German-French summit held in Schwerin four years ago.

Specifically, this means that Germany will gain access to the HELIOS II system, which is able to supply optical and infrared images. In return, it will be possible for France to use the German SAR-Lupe system, which generates high-resolution radar images independently of the weather and time of day. Various modifications to the German SAR-Lupe ground seg-ment are necessary to implement this project. Thus, interfaces are to be installed to allow France to request and receive images from SAR-Lupe. In addition, the system will be en-larged to permit the addition of further partners in the future.

Additional information and dates

Updated information on the post-launch status of the satellite will be published by OHB-System AG without delay through the normal channels.

There will be an opportunity for conducting brief interviews with the CEO of OHB-System AG, Prof. Manfred Fuchs, on Monday, December 18, 2006 between 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM. Please contact us to arrange an appointment.

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