Astrium will shortly (early 2001) usher in a new era in aircraft and satellite-based Earth Observation with the formation of the geo-information services subsidiary "InfoTerra". Dr. Klaus Ensslin, Member of the Board of Astrium, announced the ambitious plans for this new multinational company, in the presence of journalists in Friedrichshafen.
Initially, the Friedrichshafen-based unit "Earth Observation Services" of Astrium, will be integrated into a new company, "InfoTerra GmbH", which will remain located in Friedrichshafen, Germany.
In addition the British "NRSC Ltd" (National Remote Sensing Centre), a 100-percent subsidiary of Astrium, located in Farnborough and Barwell (UK), will be renamed "InfoTerra Ltd.". NRSC is already a leading supplier of geo-information products, with a 20 year history. Upon launch "InfoTerra" will immediately become a major player within the geo-information marketplace, with annual revenues in excess of 20 million Euro.
InfoTerra, with a combined workforce of 190 employees, will operate under the stewardship of a joint pan-European management structure. On an international scale, InfoTerra will provide a unique fund of resources and expertise. Ensslin emphasises: "We want InfoTerra to rank among the leading providers of geographic information products and services, world-wide".
"The expanding global requirement for aircraft and satellite-based remote sensing will generate a world-wide demand for InfoTerra products and services." Ensslin continued, "the Company's task would be to tap into this global market and to rapidly expand its position against international competition.
After ten years, annual revenues in the order of several hundred million Euro are expected, mainly from the agriculture, forestry, oil and gas-exploration, telecommunications, mapping and security-policy markets."
The increased availability of satellite and airborne imagery in recent years has resulted in the use of derived geo-information products for many commercial applications.
For example, current commercial users of geo-information products include the telecommunications industry, oil and gas exploration companies, food and natural resource industries, insurance companies, planning and consulting offices and also environmental agencies, as well as local and national government organisations.
However, from a customer's point of view, the data and information supplied by current satellite missions have one considerable drawback: they only partially meet their geo-information needs.
In order to understand client requirements, Astrium has, since late 1997, invested considerably in its "InfoTerra/TerraSAR" market research initiative. This two-year long study, involving numerous market research institutes, universities and potential customers, identified the global demand for geo-information, and determined the size and nature of future market segments.
The results of this in-depth study have provided the basis on which the "InfoTerra" business concept is founded. The study identified that new satellite-data of enhanced quality is needed to support the increasing future commercial exploitation of satellite-imagery and the derivation of new user-focused geo-information products.
As a result, new satellite sensors are required to deliver more detailed information faster and more reliably, in-order to support rapid client-user growth. Detailed Astrium studies have shown that, in addition to the optical sensors already planned for launch in the next 2 years, high resolution radar instruments, such as the Synthetic Aperture Radar, will also be essential for the development of future commercial products and services.
In its first phase, InfoTerra will offer its customers geo-information services derived from existing airborne and satellite-based sensors. From 2005, it will also use imagery from the proposed TerraSAR radar satellites. This will consist of two next-generation multi-channel radar satellites.
These satellites will operate at two frequencies, achieving both high spatial and thematic resolutions, with image resolutions of 1-metre being achieved independent of weather conditions. These 600 km altitude polar-orbiting satellites will pass over the same ground areas every six to seven days, however "urgent" observations of any area on the Earth's surface can be acquired within two days.
The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the British National Space Centre (BNSC), among others, are already funding the project under the terms of a proposed "public/private partnership". Astrium is however inviting further partners to complement the current InfoTerra/TerraSAR initiative.
Klaus Ensslin said, "To our public partners, these privately funded activities demonstrate our determination to win this growth market of geo-information services, and should encourage them to contribute their share."
In addition to the formation of InfoTerra GmbH and Ltd, Astrium is already considering further expansion of "InfoTerra", especially in France, where Astrium currently has a shareholding in other geo-information firms.
The formation of InfoTerra represents a realisation of Astrium's forward-looking strategy to develop a service-orientated business. InfoTerra will provide an excellent basis for future growth in the global geo-information market.
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