Spatial Observation (CO3D): Airbus sets KO Thales

CNES entrusted Airbus Space with the development of the low-cost CO3D observation program (Constellation Optique in 3D). The European group has made a difference in the service sector against its rival Thales Alenia Space.

Airbus Defense and Space won a significant victory against Thales Alenia Space (TAS). Following the end of the feasibility phase in 2018, CNES entrusted Airbus with the development of the CO3D observation program (Constellation Optics in 3D) after a competition launched at the beginning of the year. The National Center for Space Studies, which selected Airbus in April, is investing a hundred million euros in this program. The contract was signed on Monday between CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall and Space Systems General Manager (Airbus), Jean-Marc Nasr. As part of this contract, Airbus will provide a high-precision global Digital Surface Model (DSM). This constellation of optical mini-satellites meets the needs of a digital terrain model mission and global 3D model for civil and military needs.

“The constellation of new-generation CO3D optical satellites embodies French ambition and ingenuity, which opens up a new era in Earth observation,” said Jean-Yves Le Gall, “which will notably enable a higher rate of feedback. , greater resilience as well as high performance “.

These two objectives are based on the same concept of a small satellite with a competitive recurrent cost (less than 15 million euros, according to our information) and on a system architecture designed for an incremental deployment allowing to progressively enrich the capacity vis-à-vis both mission needs expressed. Starting in 2022, the CO3D constellation, composed of four identical satellites and in the continuity of Pléiades, will provide stereoscopic images of submetric resolution (50 cm) with global coverage. Which is clearly far from the very high resolution. The data acquired will feed a cloud processing chain operated by Airbus and integrating CNES algorithms, in order to produce a totally innovative 3D map of the land surface of our planet.

A new acquisition method
“The CO3D satellites, with a mass of approximately 300 kilos, will join Airbus’ fleet of optical satellites, strengthening the capacity to meet the growing needs of increasingly demanding applications,” CNES said in a statement. published on Monday. By inaugurating a generation of innovative and fully electric platform, these extremely agile satellites will allow the implementation of a new method of acquisition, processing and transfer of images to the ground. It is on its service offering that Airbus has made the difference in this competition, Thales, via Telespazio France, clearly not having the same level of services to offer to CNES and the Ministry in the face of the trusted operator that is Airbus DS Geo (formerly Spot Images). Thus, with the four Pléiades Neo satellites, the CO3D constellation will offer an unrivaled revisit capability for space imaging.

“The CO3D project represents significant progress for Earth observation globally, taking advantage of the latest Airbus innovation that will revolutionize access to ultra-high resolution 3D data,” said Jean-Pierre. Marc Nasr. “This contract consolidates Airbus as a trusted partner for CNES and the French authorities and strengthens our position as market leader in Europe and worldwide”.

CNES and Airbus have established “a virtuous partnership on this project”, according to the statement: an agile and integrated governance between CNES and Airbus will optimize the mission around the hybrid needs of the public and the private sector. The data collected by the CO3D constellation will be available for the needs of the French Ministry of the Armed Forces and scientists, privileged partners of the program. For Thales Alenia Space, which was embarking on services and a low-cost space program, times are tough. Very hard.

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