Magazine article National Defense

Israel Pushes New Satellite as Solution to U.S. Space Radar Needs

Magazine article National Defense

Israel Pushes New Satellite as Solution to U.S. Space Radar Needs

Article excerpt

* Israel Aerospace Industries has joined with Northrop Grumman in hopes that they can sell time on a radar imaging satellite to U.S. government agencies.

Israel's Ministry of Defense and contractor IAI developed the Tec-SAR satellite and is now looking to recoup some of its investment by following in the footsteps of commercial imagery and communication satellite companies that sell their services to U.S. military and intelligence agencies, said Seth Guanu, director of business development for national systems at Northrop Grumman.

Radar satellites have an advantage over spacecraft that rely on visible light to take high-resolution images because they can peer through clouds and darkness.

"They spent a fair amount of money for this satellite for their own military purposes ... they have a definite interest in exporting that capability to other markets, and the U.S. is a natural potential market for them," Guanu said.

The Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office pursued their own radar satellite program, which was cancelled last year because of technical difficulties and cost overruns. The NRO is believed to have other classified radar capabilities, but the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Air Force apparently want more, and less restrictive imagery, than the NRO spacecraft can provide.

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Commercial radar satellites could be used to peer at less important, or secondary, targets when the NRO satellites are focused on more important objects. They also do not have the same secrecy restrictions, and information gleaned from them can be shared with allies and those without top-secret clearances more easily.

Synthetic aperture radar satellites are seen as a necessary complement to the nation's fleet of electro-optical satellites, which cannot take images in the visible spectrum at night, or through clouds, dust and fog. SAR satellites can penetrate these barriers and look down into regions where overhead access is denied. Furthermore, electro-optical spacecraft must be directly over a target to take a clear photo. That happens every three days on average. If there are clouds, then users must wait for another pass. Radar-sats can direct their energy beams hundreds of miles away from the target, and from different angles, meaning they can collect data up to three times per day.

Companies from several nations have launched commercial radar imaging satellites including Canada's Radarsat-2, Italy's e-Geos and Germany's TerraSAR-X.

The United Arab Emirates, through an Abu Dhabi-based holding company that is owned by the government, announced last spring that it will build four commercial low-earth orbit SAR satellites that will deploy over the Middle East.

U.S companies have lagged in the SAR satellite business because of previous restrictions on the technology imposed by U.S. export control policy.

In August, the Department of Commerce reversed that policy and granted Northrop Grumman's space and mission systems division a license for a commercial one-meter resolution synthetic aperture radar system, which the company calls Trinidad.

The proposed system would operate in low earth orbit and pass over sites up to four times per day, a company statement said. …

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