Post Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:46 am

Italy completes the Cosmo-SkyMed constellation

Italy was able to send into orbit the last satellite from the Comso-SkyMed series, a program meant for observations of the Earth, focusing in particular on the Mediterranean basin area. Its applications are in agriculture, prevention of natural disasters, mapping and monitoring of the Italian peninsula coast.
The Cosmo-SkyMed program has a mixed character: it can be used in both military and civil applications and was initiated in partnership by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), which owns 70% of the consortium, and the Italian Defense Ministry, with a participation of 30% from the shares. The constellation, which cost around one billion Euro, is composed of four satellites, the first three of which have already been deployed (Cosmo 1 in June 2007, Cosmo 2 in December 2007 and Cosmo 3 in October 2008).
The industrial consortium which handled the construction of the satellites included the Italian subsidiary group of Thales Alenia Space (former Alenia Spazio) as prime contractor, but also some other players in the aerospace market in the peninsula, such as Galileo Avionics, Telespazio etc.

All four satellites were built on a common platform called “Prima”, a platform which will be part of the new Sentinel satellites in the future. The satellites in cause weigh about 1900 kilograms and are planned to be operational for a period of at least 5 years in a circular/polar LEO orbit (619 km x 619 km x 97.8 degree inclination). They will constantly scan the surface of the Earth using SAR (synthetic aperture radar) technology in the X band, at a frequency of 9.6 GHz and being able to play high-resolution images. The major advantage is the generation of these images in cascade (each satellite can deliver up to 450 images per day and the revisiting period is only 6 hours), independent of observation conditions (lighting, weather conditions).
For civil applications, the resolution communicated to the public is about 1 meter, being lowered for military uses. It is hoped to better secure the Italian territory even more, as the Italian side hopes to use additional information from the French military satellites, the Pleiades, in a strategic partnership called “Orfeo”.

As in the previous three cases, the launch was made aboard a Delta 2 rocket with a 7420-10 C configuration. The rockets dispose of four GEM 40 boosters using solid fuel to help at liftoff, a first stage powered by a RS-27A motor and a second stage powered by an AJ-10-118K motor.
Departed from California's Vandenberg Air Force on November 6th at 7:20 local time, the rocket placed the satellite into orbit after a new 58-minute flight. This was the 93rd consecutive successful attempt by Delta rocket since the incident in February 1997 which broke the line of successes (in total the US launcher successfully launched 146 flights from 148 attempts).
The flight was also symbolical, marking the 350th flight made by a rocket from the Delta family which has a 50 year long history. But despite this history, the Delta 2 version has an uncertain future. Currently there are only three more flights taken: the Argentinian SAC-D satellite, the Grail lunar probe, owned by NASA and the NPP meteorological satellite. Theoretically, the stored components are enough to build five more rockets, but by now no use has been found for them, while the market is already crowded with other models of rockets, more modern and versatile than Delta 2.