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TerraSAR-X radar satellite successfully launched


* Operational Earth observation of unrivalled quality and flexibility
* First German satellite in Public-Private Partnership

Baikonour / Friedrichshafen.- The German radar satellite TerraSAR-X has been launched successfully. A Dnepr launcher carried the satellite into space from Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 04:14 h GMT (08:14 h local time). Fifteen minutes after lift-off the spacecraft separated from the third stage of the launcher. At 04:29 the first signals from TerraSAR-X were received via the Malindi Ground Station (Kenya).

Orbiting the Earth at an altitude of approximately 514 kilometres, the satellite will use a radar beam to scan the planet’s surface – regardless of weather conditions, cloud cover or daylight – and deliver fast and reliable data for a wide range of applications, producing a completely new range of options for commercial, public and scientific users. TerraSAR-X is the first national remote sensing satellite to be realised within the scope of a Public Private Partnership (PPP): Astrium developed and built the spacecraft under contract to the German Aerospace Center DLR, and also made a significant capital contribution of its own. The scientific use of the TerraSAR-X data is under the responsibility of DLR, as well as the mission planning and operation of the satellite, whilst Infoterra GmbH, a subsidiary of Astrium, specifically established for this purpose, will be responsible for the commercial exploitation of the satellite data.

“With TerraSAR-X Astrium and Infoterra are going to turn over a new leaf in the area of Earth observation,” said Reinhold Lutz, Managing Director of Astrium in Germany. “The Satellite will deliver radar data with currently unrivalled quality and flexibility. These data will provide the basis for tailor-made geo-information solutions offered by our subsidiary Infoterra to customers all over the world,” added Mr Lutz.

The satellite’s outstanding technical feature is its active Synthetic Aperture Radar. ’Active’ in this case means that the beam can be angled within a slewing range of 20 to 60 degrees by selectively superimposing multiple individual radar beams. This method expands the area that can be imaged by the instrument. “Whereas we can record a maximum of two images during an overflight from Munich to Berlin using a passive radar, it is now possible to take up to 20,” explains Uwe Minne, Astrium´s Director of Earth observation and Head of the Friedrichshafen site. Also contributing to the wide diversity of potential applications is the ability to choose three different levels of resolution (16m, 3 m and 1 m) and image size.

TerraSAR-X opens up a broad range of applications. The system’s ability to operate regardless of cloud cover, for instance, makes it possible to rapidly generate up-to-date maps of large areas, in particular extensive forest and mountain regions. Many countries are also interested in quantifying forested resources and forest biomass. TerraSAR-X data could also be used as a German contribution to the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative, a European action plan that combines data from terrestrial, maritime and space-based measuring systems. One of the application fields for TerraSAR-X data is reconnaissance. Intelligence services, reconnaissance aircraft and relief organisations benefit from systems that not only offer very high resolution but also provide a reliable, timely data acquisition. TerraSAR-X´s weather-independent, near real-time data acquisition capabilities offer these customers unprecedented opportunities to use satellite data in time-critical situations.

TerraSAR-X is expected to have a working life of five years. Also on the agenda is the construction of a partner satellite called TanDEM-X, which will orbit the Earth alongside TerraSAR-X as of 2009. The pair will create a digital elevation model of the entire planet with a degree of resolution never before attained.


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