The last of five German SAR Lupe radar reconnaissance satellites recently
went online. The first was launched in February 2006. These five birds form the core of a new European military satellite network.
The German system is integrated with the French Helios II photo satellites to
form the core of the new system. Germany and France hope that their cooperation
in the satellite based reconnaissance will attract in the long run other
European nations to participate.
The SAR Lupe uses synthetic aperture radar.
This technology can take high resolution pictures using radar, and is
unaffected by night or climate conditions (clouds, sandstorms.) The satellites
can operate in strip map mode for wide area coverage and in the spot light mode
for a very limited reconnaissance area with a maximum resolution of a half
meter (about 20 inches). Each satellite weighs around 1,700 pounds, are 13x10x6
feet in size, and have an expected life time of ten years. The satellites will
operate in three different polar orbits in an approximate altitude of 500
kilometers. The Lupe system cost $350 million, and can be maneuvered to get
images of any area on the planet with ten hours notice.
The French Helios II photo satellites have a
resolution of approximately one meter and also have infrared sensors for taking
photos at night. France and Germany decided to put these two systems up in
response to the need for satellite imagery during the 1999 Kosovo operation
(when everyone was dependent on U.S. satellites.) The European system will also
see a lot of use in peacekeeping and disaster relief operations.