Spy satellites in Europe

DigitalGlobe and GeoEye are not the only commercial satellite companies providing high resolution imagery to governments. In Europe, Astrium is talking about its new satellite offerings, and positioning itself and the merged DigitalGlobe as the world’s leading providers of imagery:

Patrick Le Roch, director of Astrium Services’ Geo-Information division, said the proposed merger of DigitalGlobe and GeoEye “creates a de facto duopoly between us and the merged U.S. companies.”

Briefing reporters here Oct. 8 during a visit to the Pleiades 1B and Spot 7 assembly facilities, Le Roch said Astrium Services estimates the global addressable market for Earth observation imagery is about 1.8 billion euros ($2.3 billion) in 2012.

The market, he said, is growing at a rate of 7 percent per year, with the high-resolution component growing faster than the other niches.

Le Roch said the “addressable” qualifier is meant to exclude markets that are not open to international competition. The biggest of these is the U.S. government, whose National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) buys commercial satellite imagery for U.S. defense and intelligence agencies.

According to Space News, this is their strategy:

Spot 6 and Spot 7 will be operated in conjunction with the two Pleiades high-resolution satellites, which were financed by the French government and have a military mission as well as a commercial one, with Astrium Services in charge of commercial sales.

Astrium Services hopes to maintain its dominant share of the medium-resolution market, and to use Pleiades to confront DigitalGlobe/GeoEye at the high-resolution end.

The French government has estimated that the two Pleiades satellites together cost some 650 million euros. The satellites take raw images with 70-centimeter resolution at nadir. These images can be resampled to produce 50-centimeter pictures.

Their higher resolution comes at a price, however: Pleiades’ swath width is just 20 kilometers.

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