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SPOT satellites celebrate 25 years in service

SPOT 1, launched in 1986, was designed to observe cities, roads, farmlands, natural disasters and other features on Earth’s surface. The first major evolution came with SPOT 4, launched in 1998 helping foresters and farmers to assess and better manage forest and crop health. The second major evolution came in 2002 with SPOT 5, which acquires Earth imagery at a resolution of 2.5 m., a key advantage for close observation of vast territories.

Since February 22, 1986, SPOT satellites have been keeping a watchful eye on the Earth. For over 25 years, this series of optical observation satellites has been providing images of our planet for an extensive range of applications, such as cartography, crop forecasts, geological exploration, and disaster management.

All five of the SPOT satellites were developed and built by Astrium as prime contractor, responsible for the platform and high-resolution imaging system. Currently, the SPOT satellites are operated by Astrium GEO-Information Services, formerly Spot Image.

The multi-mission SPOT platform series, initially designed for the French space agency CNES, is recognized as an industry standard. Today, a similar platform is in use for nearly all the European low Earth orbit observation satellites, including the Helios military surveillance satellites, the ERS radar satellites, the environmental monitoring Envisat, and the MetOp weather satellites.

The success of the SPOT series dates back to its earliest days with SPOT-1, launched February 22, 1986 on board the last Ariane 1 rocket. It had been projected to have a three-year lifetime, but actually served 18 active years, providing nearly three million images before being conscientiously de-orbited and then disintegrated to best respect the space environment in November 2003.

SPOT-1 represented a technological leap in the field of Earth observation, in that it could produce images of unprecedented precision with a resolution of 10 meters, hitherto unparalleled for a civil satellite. Just three days after its launch, the satellite returned its first images, proof of remarkable performance.

SPOT-2 was launched in January 1990, and SPOT-3 In September 1993. As in the case of its big brother SPOT-1, the decision was also taken to deorbit SPOT-2, and after 19 years of successful operation, the mission finally came to an end in July 2009. SPOT-3 was withdrawn from service in 1996 following a technical problem.

Two SPOT satellites are currently in operational use, allowing daily observation of virtually any point on the globe: SPOT-4, launched in March 1998, produces 10-meter resolution images and SPOT-5, launched in May 2002, delivers a resolution of up to 2.5 meters over an extended observation swath.

SPOT-5 is a major force in the satellite imagery domain, with an impressive 80% share of the world market for two-meter-range imagery. To ensure long-term continuity in high-resolution data while competition gets ever tougher, Astrium decided, in March 2009 to launch a new project with private financing, AstroTerra. This aims to put the SPOT-6 and SPOT-7 satellites into orbit in September 2012 and the end of 2013, respectively, guaranteeing smooth transition for the SPOT family.

Jean Dauphin, Astrium’s Head of Earth Observation & Science, France, applauds SPOT’s success: “The first SPOT satellite was a true pioneer in making space-based imagery of our globe available on a commercial basis. The SPOT series has gone from strength to strength and is recognition of both the engineering savoir-faire of Astrium Satellites and the marketing expertise of Spot Image – now part of the Astrium Services fold. With Astrium Satellites already well advanced on the design and build of the next-generation SPOT-6 and SPOT-7 – an ambitious program with challenging technological objectives, offering a more efficient and competitive solution as part of a wholly EADS-funded approach – we are looking forward to continuing this hugely successful partnership.”

Gérard Brachet, Spot Image’s CEO from 1982 to 1994, is also full of praise for the ground-breaking SPOT adventure: “Created in 1982 and fully up and running with the launch of the first SPOT satellite exactly 25 years ago, Spot Image was the first commercial company in the world to operate Earth observation satellites. It was down to its extensive global network and the quality and enthusiasm of its personnel in Toulouse, Washington, Sydney, Singapore and Beijing that it well and truly cracked this new market. The excellent performance of the five successive SPOT satellites, all of which were primed by Matra Marconi Space – later to become Astrium – played a major role in this success.”

Patrick Le Roch, head of Astrium Services GEO Division, concludes “As a newcomer to Astrium, I am very impressed by the SPOT legacy and could not be happier to have taken over the reigns of such a successful business. We have an exciting future ahead of us as we enter a new era with SPOT-6 and SPOT-7 operational just a few years from now.”

Further information can be found at CNES

(Source Astrium Services)_