The launch of a second Helios 1 optical surveillance satellite late last year (Flight International, 15-21 December, 1999) has brought into focus the Italian defence ministry's need to decide on follow-on requirements.

Italy has a 14% share in the French-led Helios programme and Spain has 7%. Helios 1/B will supplement Helios 1/A,in orbit since July 1995, and will replace the older satellite later this year.

Rome receives 12% of the output from Helios and shares a further 17% with the other partners. This costs Italy L28 billion ($14.6 million) a year. In addition, the control and exploitation centre at Lecce is to be upgraded in 2001-3 at a cost of L30-39 million a year.

France is applying pressure on Rome to sign for the Helios 2 programme, due for launch in 2003-4. The new satellite is twice the size of the current craft, with a launch weight of 4,500kg (10,000lb), and will be equipped with infrared sensors to overcome the Helios 1's inability to see in darkness.

After Germany's withdrawal from Helios 2,France has been developing the satellite as a national programme, but it is keen to sign other partners, including Belgium and Spain, and possibly attract Germany back to the programme.

Italian industry is also keen for its government to sign because it has been developing the SAR-X-2000 synthetic aperture radar, which could have an application on the spacecraft.

The Italian defence ministry is reviewing Helios 2 and a possible co-operative programme with the USA that could include military communications satellites.

Source: Flight International