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Oct. 24, 2008 - Vandenberg AFB.The third spacecraft for Italy's home-grown Earth observing system, a constellation of radar satellites built for civil and military reconnaissance, received a successful boost into orbit Friday by an American ULA Delta 2 rocket.

Rocket: Delta 2 (7420)
Payload: COSMO 3
Date: Oct. 24, 2008
Time: 7:28 p.m. PDT (10:28 p.m. EDT)
Site: SLC-2W, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Broadcast: AMC 16, Transponder 22, Ku-band

The third spacecraft for Italy's home-grown Earth observing system, a constellation of radar satellites built for civil and military reconnaissance, received a successful boost into orbit Friday by an American Delta 2 rocket.

The COSMO-SkyMed spacecraft roared away from the Vandenberg Air Force Base launch pad precisely on time at 7:28:25 p.m. local (10:28:25 p.m. EDT; 0228:25 GMT).

With its two sister-satellites circling the planet in formation, COSMO 3 had only a split second launch opportunity Friday night to get airborne and ensure its proper placement into the orbiting network.

And the United Launch Alliance Delta 2 delivered, collecting its 84th straight success.

The two stages and four side-mounted boosters of the 12-story rocket did their jobs during the hour-long ascent that extended half-way around the globe, ultimately deploying the 4,200-pound payload into a 335-nautical mile orbit.

Developed by Thales Alenia Space Italia for the Italian Space Agency and the Italian Ministry of Defence, the COSMO-SkyMed system is a flagship program with a 1 billion euro price tag.

"The proudness of the Italian parties is very, very high because the COSMO-SkyMed is the biggest space program realized in Italy," said Sandro Fagioli, vice president of Thales Alenia Space and general manager of the COSMO-SkyMed program.

"The design, the project, the technology is entirely Italian, 100 percent Italian."

Each satellite is equipped with an X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument for environmental monitoring, resource management and territorial security surveillance. They are capable of seeing the ground in daylight or darkness, with clear skies or cloudy ones.

The craft can produce 450 images per day, and Fagioli said the picture-collecting time between civil and military uses is proportional to the financial contributions made during development of the system. The Italian Space Agency funded about 70 percent and the Ministry of Defence provided about 30 percent.

Imagery released for civilian purposes have a resolution of 1 meter, meaning objects as small as that size can be seen. "The military application is a lot under a meter, but I cannot give the exact number because it is classified," Fagioli said.

Adding this third satellite into the constellation will enable operators to begin tandem observations that image the same area but at different angles. The result will be high-resolution three-dimensional images.

"We can make more-precise maps of the world," Fagioli said. "We can increase the accuracy."

The satellites already proved themselves beneficial to humanitarian organizations responding to recent natural disasters, such as Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the devastating earthquake in China and Hurricanes Hannah and Ike that hit Haiti.

Once the constellation is completed in 2010, any specific region of the planet will be observed by the COSMO satellites every six hours, Fagioli said. That will allow authorities "to first understand, then arrange actions" when disasters strike.

The first two COSMO satellites were lofted into space by Delta 2 rockets in June and December 2007, respectively, and launch managers hoped Friday's third success would seal the deal to perform the fourth satellite-deployment mission in 2010.

"We do have more Deltas to sell," said Kris Walsh, ULA's director of NASA and commercial programs for the Delta rocket.

"I truly believe we are the preferred supplier, and hopefully we'll be able to make an announcement in the near-term," said Ken Heinly, Boeing Launch Services president. "We have an excellent working routine with the Italian agencies."

"We are working in order to negotiate the contract with Boeing to launch the fourth satellite," Fagioli said. "It is very probable that we will reach the agreement in a very short time. But until now, (we've) not yet signed the contract."

"Right now, the launch window we are looking at is between February and July of 2010," Heinly added.

Friday's launch was the fifth and final Delta 2 mission of the year. A pair of launches from Cape Canaveral took place in March and June, then a busy string of three flights from Vandenberg followed in the last four months.

The next launch will occur from the West Coast, too. The rocket will begin on-pad assembly in early December for a planned February 4 liftoff carrying the NOAA-N Prime civilian weather satellite for the U.S. government. The spacecraft is slated for delivery to Vandenberg on November 4, arriving from the Lockheed Martin manufacturing factory in Sunnyvale, California. From :, By JUSTIN RAY

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  1. MarlyMS // October 28, 2008 at 2:02 PM  

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  2. fauzan // October 29, 2008 at 11:54 PM  

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