IAI's EROS satellite will help Israel to catch up in the space market

Arie Egozi/TEL AVIV

Time sharing is usually associated with hotel rooms in exotic resorts. From early next year, the concept will also be linked with observation satellites for civil and military missions. The first Earth remote observation system (EROS) satellite is due for launch late in the first quarter of 2000.

The full eight-satellite constellation is to be in orbit before the end of 2004. Israel made a late entry into space, but with the Eros constellation, it will close the gap on its rivals.

To date, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) has manufactured the Offeq 3 intelligence satellite that was launched with the Israeli Shavit. IAI also assembled the Amos communications satellite, launched by an Ariane. The two satellites are in orbit as Israel prepares to make a significant leap into the space market.

IAI, with EL OP and Core Software Technology from the USA, has formed West Indian Space (WIS) as a joint venture to use the Offeq's proven technologies commercially. The combination of a satellite manufacturer, a payload manufacturer and a company experienced in distributing Earth images is expected to exploit a market estimated to grow by 34% annually, to $6.5 billion in 2007.

The first EROS will weigh 260kg (570lb). The others will be a little heavier - about 350kg, according to WIS president Moshe Bar-Lev. "The low weight of our satellites is our greatest asset. It provides us with an agile satellite. It will affect the price of the production and also the price of the launch," says Bar-Lev, formerly the head of IAI's space directorate.

The first EROS satellites will be launched into orbit with the Russian Start-1. The three-axis satellites have a varied life expectancy. While the first is expected to stay in orbit for four to six years, the others will live for up to 10 years. All systems except the imaging payload will be redundant, which, says WIS, will ensure high reliability. The EROS satellites will enter sun-synchronous Earth orbits matching the Earth's angular rotation around the sun. A constant sun direction, relative to each of the satellites' orbital planes, is sustained throughout the year. As a result, all the images will be taken at almost the same local time, irrespective of the day or the month.

The first two EROS will orbit the Earth at an altitude of 480km; the others will be positioned in 600km orbits. Each satellite will complete one orbit in about 90min, which means that each ground station will "see" a satellite over its range at least once a day. This unique revisit rate, with its 1m (3ft) resolution, are the programme's two major selling points.

According to Bar-Lev, clients will have three options to use the constellation's services. If the client is a government, it will be offered the satellite partner operation (SOP) option, which will allow a country that cannot afford to own a satellite to use the EROS for its particular requirements.

Such a country will buy the exclusive right for regional control and operation of one satellite. In this option, the client maintains complete operational autonomy of the dedicated satellite over the geographic footprint of its ground station.

Another option is tailored to the needs of less demanding national clients. According to the priority access service package, WIS will supply the images taken, according to a pre-defined programme. Clients who do not need real-time or near real-time images will be able to use the acquisition, archiving and distribution service. In 1992, Core began developing the first global online visual indexing and distribution system, the Imagenet. This Internet-based network will allow clients to use AAD through their personal computers.

WIS has signed agreements with most of the 20 ground receiving stations around the world. These agreements have a clause based on the US Government's "denied country" list which is aimed at blocking certain nations from accessing a high-resolution imaging satellite.

With this first SOP partner, WIS was sufficiently confident to go commercial. The investment in the first three satellites, and their launch, is estimated at $250 million. The investment in the full constellation is estimated at $750 million. WIS plans to issue bonds in the US stock market to raise money.

Source: Flight International