Paris: After a decade long negotiation, the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces on July 22 contracted with Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space of France to provide the two-satellite Falcon Eye high-resolution optical reconnaissance system. The contract is valued at 800 million euros, (approximately $1.1 billion).
The contract includes the construction of two satellites weighing less than 1,500 kilograms each; their separate launches in late 2017 and early 2018, likely aboard European Vega rockets; two ground facilities for satellite control and image reception; and training of UAE personnel in France. Industry officials have said that they would use the same satellite platform as the French government’s two Pleiades satellites, which operate from 700-kilometre polar low Earth orbits. The Pleiades satellites are capable of detecting objects as small as 70 centimeters in diameter, and 50 centimeters after the images are enhanced in a process called resampling. Thales Alenia Space will provide the Falcon Eye imaging payload and Astrium Satellites will build the platform. Both companies said their hardware would be upgraded versions of what they built for Pleiades, which is used by the French Defense Ministry and by Astrium Services Geo-Information division for commercial sales. UAE officials, with partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council and later on their own, have been weighing the Falcon Eye project since the mid-1990s. The negotiation took so long that the satellite industry had begun to view it as a desert mirage. French industry officials said the French government’s backing of the joint Astrium-Thales Alenia Space bid was instrumental in concluding the contract. Eric Beranger, chief executive of Astrium Satellites, said in a July 22 interview that about 1,000 French engineers and other technicians, at Astrium, Thales Alenia Space and their contractors, would be employed for Falcon Eye.