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November 09, 2010

Boeing Puts Up Italian Radar Satellite on 350th Delta Launch

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Boeing (News - Alert) put the last in the series of four SkyMed radar satellites into orbit last week, marking the 350th Delta rocket launch in the program's 50-year history and a full radar surveillance constellation for Italy.

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The Italian COSMO (Constellation of Small Satellites for Mediterranean basin Observation) SkyMed-4 satellite was launched into orbit on a Delta II rocket into low Earth orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Nov. 6. It was the fourth Delta launch for the COSMO-SkyMed program and marked 93 consecutive successful launches of the Delta II since 1997. 

Boeing put the previous three COSMO-SkyMed satellites in June 2007, December 2007 and October 2008. Each satellite is expected to have an on-orbit lifespan of at least five years.

COSMO-SkyMed was designed by Thales (News - Alert) Alena Space for the Italian Space Agency and Italian Ministry of Defense. It is a system of four medium-sized satellites, along with supporting ground stations, that will take images of the Earth using an X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capable of operating under all weather conditions. Designed as a dual-use civilian and military program, the radar imagery produced by the four satellite constellation is being be used by Italy, Argentina, and France for environmental monitoring and surveillance applications.

Depending on the radar mode, a COSMO-SkyMed satellite can deliver images covering a 200 by 200 kilometer swath with a resolution of 100 meters to a "spotlight" model focusing on a 10 by 10 kilometer swath with resolution of one meter. Radar tasking and imagery is designed to be shared with the French in exchange for access to French optical satellite imagery from the Helios and Pleiades families.

The original Delta rocket family has its origins tracing back to 1960 as an upgraded/tricked-up version of the Thor ballistic missile designed to put up to 650 pounds into LEO or up to 100 pounds into GEO. Over the years, Delta has evolved into an entire family of expendable rockets with newer engines, more and more powerful strap-on solid rocket motors.  

Today's Delta II can put over 13,000 pounds into LEO and nearly 4,800 pounds into LEO and has been NASA's go-to vehicle for launching science missions, including most of the Mars missions over the past 15 years. However, the Delta II's days are coming to a close. NASA has bought for three Delta II flights in 2011, but there's nothing on the board after that.


Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf