COSMO-SkyMed

Dual Earth observation system

Its radar images of some of the worst natural disasters of 2008, such as the cyclone Nargis in Burma, the earthquake in China and the hurricanes Hannah and Ike in Haiti, have been used by the United Nations and humanitarian organizations involved in aiding the population.

But these are just a few examples of the exceptional operational capabilities of COSMO-SkyMed, the most ambitious Earth observation satellite program ever built by Italy for the prevention of environmental disasters, for the study of the Earth's surface and for security.

COSMO-SkyMed is the first earth satellite observation system designed for dual purposes, i.e. civil and military. Its four satellites are four "eyes" able to peer at the Earth from space, meter by meter, day and night, in all weathers, to help prevent landslides and floods, to coordinate relief efforts in the event of earthquakes or fire, to control crisis areas from above.

Developed by the Italian Space Agency in cooperation with the Ministry of Defence, COSMO SkyMed is based on a constellation of four identical satellites, equipped with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) working in X-band (thus able to see through cloud cover and in the absence of sunlight).

Once completed, the system will be able to perform up to 450 shots per day of the earth’s surface, equivalent to 1,800 radar images, every 24 hours.

The real strength of COSMO-SkyMed is the extraordinary flexibility of use. The eye of the radar can operate in spotlight mode (focusing on an area of a few square kilometres, and observing it with a resolution down to the individual meter), stripmap (observing a continuous strip of land surface) or ScanSAR (covering an area of 200 km on each side).

The response times are also very short, this being the time required to configure the constellation in order to obtain images of the desired area: from 72 hours when operating under routine conditions, to less than 18 hours in emergency conditions.

Another strength is the short review time (the interval between two passes over the same point), less than 12 hours, allowing to constantly monitor the development of the situation in a particular area. Currently, no satellite system can boast such advanced features.

The implementation of COSMO-SkyMed has already permitted important international agreements for Italy in military and civil Earth observation, in particular with France and Argentina.

The Italian Space Agency has an ongoing collaboration with Argentina in the civilian sector for the implementation of the SIASGE system, Italo-Argentine System of Satellites for Emergency Management, created in 2005 by an agreement between the Italian Space Agency and its Argentine counterpart (CONAE).

The first satellite of the constellation was launched June 7, 2007 from the U.S. base in Vandenberg, California, from where the second left on December 9 of the same year. The third satellite left on October 25, 2008. The system was completed on November 5, 2010 (6/11 in Italy) with the launch of the fourth and final satellite, again from the U.S. base at Vandenberg, California. The second generation of COSMO-SkyMed is currently under development.