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Italy special: Towards the stars

On 5 November the fourth and final satellite of the COSMO-SkyMed constellation was launched from Vandenberg air base in California. "This event represents an historical achievement by Italy's aerospace research and industry, as COSMO-SkyMed is the first example at world level of dual application (civil and military) radar earth observation system, wholly conceived and developed in Italy", says Mariastella Gelmini, who heads the ministry of instruction, university and research (MIUR). The MIUR oversees the Italian space agency (ASI) which in turn is responsible for coordinating the Italian space sector.

In the coming weeks, ASI will unveil the 10-year (2010-20) €7 billion ($10 billion) strategic vision plan approved by the MIUR. Roughly 37% of the funding will be devoted to science, followed by earth observation (33%), with the remaining money roughly equally divided between launchers and the national contribution to the International Space Station.

A minor allocation will be for communications and broadcasting activities, the latter to be carried out through a public-private partnership, says Enrico Saggese, Italian space agency president since July 2009.

COSMO-Skymed satellite, Finmeccanica
 © Finmeccanica
COSMO-SkyMed is the first example of its type wholly conceived and developed in Italy

Gelmini says that, as demonstrated by COSMO-SkyMed, the public-private partnership "expresses a winning model, to be extended to other sectors, in order to maximise the resources and competences crossing effects".

Italy's space industry employs over 5,500 people and in 2009 produced a turnover of over €1.4 billion. In addition to the leading companies, such as Avio, Selex Galileo, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space Italia, the fabric of the national space industry is mainly composed of small and medium enterprises offering manufacturing and services, such as Advanced Computer Systems, Carlo Gavazzi Space, Datamat, Microtecnica, Rheinmetall Italia, Space Engineering and Vitrociset.

During the recent International Astronautical Congress in Prague - which in 2012 will be hosted in Naples - these industries were for the first time represented jointly under the aegis of the Italian space agency and three dedicated industrial associations, in order to promote them in the international arena.

THEMATIC TENDERS

In order to develop SME contribution, ASI is working on four thematic tenders (materials, components and sensors, earth observation and communications and navigation), for which funding amounts to €40 million, two million of which has already been released, says Saggese.

"Additionally we are working in order to allow SMEs to actively participate to main national and international programmes, such as COSMO-SkyMed second generation," he says. Two other key national players in space development are the research and university bodies. According to MIUR, the former are undergoing a reorganisation under a reduced budget, while the latter is subject to a reduced funding appropriation based on present projects.

EARTH OBSERVATION

Italy devotes special attention to Earth observation programmes. With the completion of COSMO-SkyMed's first worldwide, dual-use (civilian/military) X-band SAR radar earth observation satellite constellation, funded by ASI, MIUR and the Italian ministry of defence at an overall cost of € 1,13 billion, the system will be able to provide 1,800 images a day with a resolution of 1m (3ft) for civilian (and less for military) applications, with an area-of-interest refresh every 4-6h, compared with the current 10-12h offered by the three satellites, says Saggese.

In order to maintain this capability in the future and offer better performances, Saggese says the ASI expects to award a contract by the end of 2010 to develop a second-generation satellite imaging radar antenna, while a €600 million contract to acquire two new satellites to replace the original versions should be assigned in 2011 in order to launch them between 2014 and 2015.

Exomars, Finmeccanica
 © Finmecannica
Italy has its eyes on Mars

The new satellites will have full polarimetric capabilities with improved resolution, thus enabling enhanced applications and monitoring both for civilian and military applications.

Developed and manufactured by Thales Alenia Space Italy, with Selex Galileo as main subcontractor, the COSMO-SkyMed constellation is managed by Telespazio. The latter, through the e-GEOS company, together with ASI, sells the image products to national and international government and civilian customers.

GLOBAL MONITORING

Developed as a result of intergovernmental co-operation between Italy and France and based on the dual system Orfeo - which includes French optical satellites Pleiades, Helios I and II - COSMO-SkyMed is a member of the Italian-Argentinian satellite system for emergency management (SIASGE).

It will be able to meet the stringent operating requirements of the European Union/European Space Agency global monitoring for environment and security programme, to which Selex Galileo is contributing on board Sentinel 3 with a new-generation sea and land surface temperature radiometer.

Italy is also pioneering hyperspectral technologies outside the USA within the PRISMA national programme - a pre-operative satellite using a Selex Galileo developed electro-optic payload, which integrates a hyperspectral sensor and a middle-resolution panchromantic camera.

"An international partner for this programme has been identified in the Israeli space agency, with which an agreement is expected to be signed within weeks,"says Saggese, adding that the MIOSAT programme will be used to test data fusion between radar and other EO sensors.

The Italian space agency has a main role at European level, as the third contributor country to ESA and working closely with NASA and other international space agencies in many of the most interesting scientific missions of recent years.

"ASI is significantly contributing to universe observation, especially in astrophysics and cosmology, with national and international programmes", says Saggese, referring to ASI contributions to major planned missions for future years, from Venus to comets, up to the outer limits of our solar system.

The STS 133 Space Shuttle mission, to be launched by the end of November, will transport Italy's reconfigured and renamed permanent multipurpose module Leonardo. "It will become a integral element of the ISS, built entirely in Italy," says Saggese. It will be constructed by Thales Alenia Space and mission controlled by ALTEC (advanced logistics technology engineering company), the Turin-based joint venture between Thales Alenia Space, ASI and the Piemonte aerospace consortium.

"We are also actively participating in Mars human exploration with the Mars sample return and two-mission ExoMars programmes, providing components for a rover to be deployed in 2018, under the management of ASI's rover operation control mission centre being provided by ALTEC," Saggese says.

Italy is also involved in ISS resupply, as a member of the ESA-led automated transfer vehicle programme, with Thales Alenia Space Italia having a key role in the ATV development, manufacturing and evolution, with the third vehicle to be delivered this year. The part-Finmeccanica owned company is also part of the team which includes US companies Orbital Sciences and Space X, to provide Cygnus commercial cargo resupply services for ISS under a NASA contract.

Part of the Finmeccanica-Thales Space Alliance, Thales Alenia Space is a key industrial protagonist in projects in the fields of the environment (GMES), navigation (EGNOS and Galileo), defence and security (Syracuse, Sicral COSMO-SkyMed and Göktürk), and commercial broadcasting (Iridium NEXT), as well as space infrastructures represented by the ISS.

It contributes to a range of European and international science programmes, with a main role in missions like GOCE, Herschel & Planck and ExoMars. Telespazio is a world-leading operator in satellite services with its extensive Fucino Space Centre, being involved in national and international programmes such as Galileo, GMES, EGNOS, COSMO-SkyMed SICRAL and Göktürk, the latter as prime contractor.

ASI and French space agency CNES are actively leading the Italian and French ministry of defences' new-generation Athena-Fidus (Access on THeatres and European Nations for Allied forces - French Italian Dual Use Satellite) broadband civil and military telecommunications satellite programme, awarded in February 2010 to Thales Alenia Space and to be launched in 2013.

Within this co-operation, the two MoDs awarded in May a contract worth €295 million to Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio to provide a SICRAL 2 military communication satellite to be put in orbit in 2013. It will accompany Italy's in-service SICRAL 1/1B and French Siracuse, and provide spare capabilities for NATO countries, as already provided by SICRAL through Telespazio.

GALILEO CONTRACT

In October, Spaceopal, the joint venture between Telespazio and German company DLR, received a contract to provide launch, in-orbit services and control of the ESA-led Galileo navigation satellite constellation, enhancing Italy's contribution in the programme. "However, due to cost increases, we are looking to obtain additional funding resources from the Italian government,"says Saggese.

Through its participation in company ELV with Avio, ASI is leading the ESA space launcher segment for small satellites up to 1,700kg to be positioned at low orbit within the VEGA international programme, complementary to the Ariane launcher, in which Italy also participates.

"We currently plan to employ the first VEGA launcher with LARES satellite around June 2011, and to continue to work on the LYRA project to increase VEGA's performance by about 30%, without significant impact on the price of the launch service, by employing a launcher's third stage, based on the new oxygen-methane MIRA thrusters," says Saggese.

ASI has recently signed an agreement on propulsion development based on oxygen mixture with Japanese, Russian and US space agencies, which will involve Avio and CIRA (the Italian aerospace research centre).

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