Brussels (Brussels Morning) Airbus launched the first of a planned four-satellite constellation envisioned to make Europe a leader in Earth observation services. The Pleiades Neo 3 can achieve imaging resolution to an exactitude of just 30 centimetres, and will be used for large-scale city mapping and crop monitoring, RFI reported.
Launched on Wednesday atop the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Vega rocket, the satellite was confirmed in target orbit on Thursday. Once fully operational, the satellite will provide imaging capabilities of up to half a million square kilometres daily.
Competing with US
At an estimated cost of 600 million euro, the four-satellite network should enable unprecedented coverage, with each satellite providing two flyovers per day. The Pleiades Neo network is intended to enable Airbus to compete on equal terms with the US leader in space observation, Maxar.
“The launch of this first Pléiades Neo satellite will pave the way to new services and great opportunities for our customers, thanks to its high accuracy and increased reactivity”, François Lombard, Head of Intelligence at Airbus Defence and Space, stated.
Describing plans to face US competition with its new network, Lombard told Challenges magazine “it’s a bit like when Airbus took on Boeing in the 1970”. The European aerospace company recently overtook its US rival in plane manufacturing, after Boeing faced problems with what was to be its bestselling model, the 737 MAX.
Hitching a ride
The Wednesday launch, performed by European launch provider Arianespace, successfully placed five other satellites in orbit. Four tiny cubesats and Norway’s Norsat-3 maritime surveillance satellite also travelled aboard the Vega rocket alongside the Pleiades Neo 3.
The lightweight Vega rocket is a single-body launcher with three solid fuel stages and a liquid-fueled module on top, capable of bringing up to 2,500kg into low-Earth orbit. Developed by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and ESA, the Vega rocket is seen as Europe’s primary contender in the booming commercial small satellite launch market.