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Satellite Manufacturers Boosted By CNES Deal

By | October 13, 2003

      The fortunes of Europe’s leading satellite manufacturers, EADS Astrium and Alcatel Space, have been boosted by the recent announcement that French space agency CNES (Centre National D’Etudes Spatiales) has awarded them a 314 million euro ($369.8 million) contract to build two Pléiades satellites. EADS Astrium will be the prime contractor and will build the two satellites. Alcatel Space will supply the high-resolution instruments.

      The Pléiades HR satellites are the high-resolution optical imaging component of the French-Italian Orfeo system, for which Italy is supplying the Cosmo-Skymed radar component. Orfeo will be a dual use civil/military system. The first of the two new satellites is expected to be launched in mid-2008 and the second in 2009.

      Signed and Sealed, Despite Delay

      Both parties were naturally delighted that the deal had been signed and sealed. Michel Bouffard, director of earth observation at EADS Astrium France, said: “It is a very important contract for EADS Astrium. It is a contract that we had expected for some time and which, due to various reasons, was delayed six to eight months compared to our original expectations. But, now that we have it signed, it secures a significant amount of work for Astrium in the coming years, which is most welcome.”

      He continued: “It is also very interesting work because it is a high-technology contract with a lot of new developments in terms of new equipment and technologies. This Pléiades is a quite advanced technological satellite. First of all, it has an advanced instrument; second, it has a very agile platform using technologies that are already used in the U.S., but not in Europe, like altitude control using control moment gyros (CMG) and fiber optics gyros (FOG). Also, the Pléiades data processing is state-of-the-art with a large fast mass memory, advanced compression and an ERC32 on board processor.”

      Major Contributor

      For Alcatel Space, the deal is also a positive move. Joel Chenet, vice president of observation and sciences at Alcatel Space, noted: “It is a significant deal as it represents recognition from CNES and the institutional people from CNES. We are in a good position for the high-performance instrument. The position of Alcatel is important because the instrument is one of the major contributors in the performance of the satellite.”

      The contract for EADS Astrium caps off a solid year for the company in terms of its activities in Earth observation. Bouffard commented: “We expect to sign a couple of smaller contracts for demonstrators with the French MOD [Ministry of Defense] this year. We expect them before the end of the year. In terms of orders in the field of Earth observation, we have had a good year with phase C and D of the AEOLUS contract coming on Oct. 22. This is a LIDAR mission satellite for ESA [European Space Agency]. We should have signed five major orders in 2003.”

      The field of Earth observation is likely to offer EADS Astrium a number of opportunities going forward. “Earth observation will be one of the important growth areas for EADS Astrium, for both satellites and services. We have a number of large programs like Pléiades. But, we have other programs coming. We think the GMES (Global Monitoring For Environment and Security) for the EU [European Union] will also be a big opportunity for us to have a new mission,” notes Bouffard.

      While EADS Astrium has matched expectations in terms of orders in the Earth observation arena, Bouffard provides a cautious forecast in terms of revenue growth. “I don’t think the growth will come in the next two years. It will come in three to four years’ time. There is another area where we see opportunities for EADS Astrium overall and that is radar missions. We are already building one radar mission, which is called Terrasar X. We are looking for other radar missions, either in L-band or C-band in the coming years. Envisat in Europe and Radarsat in Canada will of course need replacement missions.”

      Right Direction

      For Alcatel Space, the deal is an important step in the right direction, although Chenet concedes that market conditions are not easy at the moment. “This market gets harder and harder because it seems there are more and more difficulties coming from the agencies because they want to do more with less money. It is clear that we need to adapt because the customers generally speaking [have the funds] to pay for satellites … We need to be more and more focused on services.”

      Chenet thinks it will be tough for the operator to generate significant revenues in this area. “We face some stagnation in terms of the budget regarding the agencies. Alcatel Space needs to have a good position. The market is not increasing and if we want to increase our revenues, we need to have more market share, so that is part of the challenge. It is quite complex. We think we have all the tools to increase our market share but that is not enough in this market. We expect more contracts before the end of the year. We expect to have a contract with the French MOD as well as the contract for MSG 4, and we hope also to have negotiations with CNES for the JASON program.”

      The contract with CNES marks the second key contract for Alcatel Space with CNES in less than a month. On Sept. 26, Alcatel Space announced that it had won a five-year contract worth 19 million euros ($22.3 million) to provide ground operations and services for the Toulouse Space Center in South West France. Alcatel Space will provide non-stop control services for the Telecom 2, SPOT and JASON satellites.

      –Mark Holmes

      (Laurent Zimmermann, Alcatel Space, e-mail:; Remi Roland, EADS Astrium, e-mail: )

      Pleiades Satellites: Key Facts

      • The satellites will bring a number of significant technological advances.
      • They are more compact than their predecessors.
      • Ground resolution will be 70 centimeters across a 20-kilometer swath.
      • A high degree of agility will allow them to acquire several images successively along track or off track to create ground image mosaics.
      • Onboard storage capacity has been increased to 600 gigabits and the downlink data rate to 450 Mbps.

      Source: EADS Astrium

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