German radar spy satellite launches into space
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: December 19, 2006
The first of a fleet of five identical all-weather German spy satellites was launched Tuesday aboard a Russian rocket to collect high-resolution images of the ground 24 hours a day.
Called SAR-Lupe 1, the 1,587-pound craft is Germany's first reconnaissance satellite. It is fitted with a large radar dish antenna that can pierce darkness and thick clouds to resolve targets. The radar data can be analyzed and turned into images.
The spacecraft launched atop a Kosmos 3M rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in far northern Russia a few seconds after 1400 GMT (9:00 a.m. EST) Tuesday.
The rocket released SAR-Lupe 1 into a 300-mile high Sun-synchronous orbit about a half-hour later, ending the launch in success.
A ground station received the first radio signals from the satellite about an hour after liftoff, confirming SAR-Lupe 1 was healthy after its ride into orbit. The craft was built for the German Federal Ministry of Defense by OHB-System AG, an aerospace company based in Bremen, Germany.
Control of the satellite will be handed over to the German military in mid-January to begin its 10-year reconnaissance mission. SAR-Lupe 1 will then begin gathering operational synthetic aperture radar images.
Four more SAR-Lupe spacecraft are scheduled for launch at intervals of four to six months until the constellation is completed around 2008. The fleet will orbit about 300 miles above Earth in three orbital planes to maximize the number of passes over potential targets.
The SAR-Lupe program is also a key element of a joint reconnaissance initiative signed between Germany and France four years ago. In the treaty, the two nations agreed to share data from each country's reconnaissance satellite system.
France will be allowed access to German SAR-Lupe imagery, while French optical and infrared data from the Helios 2 system will be shared with Germany, according to the agreement.
Tuesday's launch was the 60th space mission to successfully reach orbit this year.