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HIgh Resolution Optical System (HiROS)

The Bundesnachrichtendienst [BND - Federal Information Service] is responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence. The German Intelligence Services are set to receive their own satellite for monitoring purposes. Until now, the agency sourced visual data from the German army and US satellites. German news outlets, including the “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” and public broadcasters WDR and NDR on November 10, 2016 published reports saying Germany’s budget commission had approved a sum for financing a satellite for the express use of the German Intelligence Services (BND). According to estimates, the satellite would cost around 400 million euros ($435.32 million) and would be ready by 2022. In addition, 400 new employees would be appointed to the agency.

Currently, the BND received its data from the German army (Bundeswehr), which operates its own small satellites. It also buys information from the open market and works together with partner agencies, for example in the US, to acquire high-resolution imagery. BND had been lobbying for years for its own satellite technology for better monitoring, saying this technology will enable the agency to better supervise conflict regions like the Ukraine or countries suspected of manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. The chancellor’s office had refused to finance such a project, saying the costs were too high.

Berlin had been engaged in talks with the US government for better spying methods under a project called “Hiros.” Under the program, Germany and the US would have stationed three satellites, each at a height of 500 kilometers. Imagery from these satellites would have primarily served commercial interests and disaster prevention, but the BND would also have had access to them. However, talks between US and Germany on the issue stalled in 2010, dashing the BND’s hopes of finally having a direct source for gathering information.

By 2016, the German government had changed its stance towards security forces, announcing thousands of new appointments for its domestic spying agency and the police. Berlin justifies its policy change by saying that the security situation in Europe has changed and that it wants to reduce its dependence on US secret services.

Since 2007, Germany had been producing, processing, and analyzing high quality space-based SAR data from its Ministry of Defense (MOD)-run SAR Lupe program (a 5-satellite constellation that is built and operated by OHB Systems AG) and the Astrium/DLR-run commercial TerraSAR-X program. During this interval, Germany has made impressive strides in its abilities to collect, process, and analyze SAR data, but concluded that, Electro-Optical (EO) data supplementing SAR data makes interpretation and analysis much easier. Germany was wholly dependent upon foreign sources of high resolution EO imagery. Germany would very much like to remedy this and by 2007 DLR believed it now has the knowledge, skill, and ability to field an operating 0.5 meter resolution HiROS constellation within three years (2012) at a price tag of about 200 million euro.

DLR/Astrium could achieve this aggressive 3-year plan by leveraging available German instrument technology and past Public Private Partnership (PPP) experiences successfully building, launching, and operating satellite systems. DLR would use a similar, but improved, version of the instrument technology they built for the KOMPSAT 3 program - a German partnership with the South Korean Aerospace Institute (KARI), scheduled for launch in 2010. Astrium would likely build the satellite buses and assemble the instruments. DLR stated that they planned on using Russian launchers for access to orbit.

DLR cooperates with the German MOD to create algorithms for SAR data image processing and DLR researchers are clearly aware of the significant benefit of fusing EO and SAR imagery for analysis. Specifically, DLR said that the German government realized that it needed an EO satellite reconnaissance capability "to make maximum use" of their radar capabilities. The DLR's latest techniques are sufficiently advanced to permit the generation of fused radar and EO product. While these techniques currently require "hours" of processing, DLR is working on technology to make this processing "near real-time" or in "milliseconds."

DLR indicated that the aggressive schedule on their HiROS program was also driven in part by a desire to incorporate HiROS data within the operational lifetimes of their TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X programs. The TanDEM-X mission was scheduled to launch in 2009 to perform SAR imaging of the entire earth in "tandem" with TerraSAR-X. With the end of life for the TerraSAR-X mission anticipated in late 2012 and the HiROS potentially available at the beginning of 2012, DLR realized there is a unique, if limited, opportunity to simultaneously collect data from the HiROS, TerraSAR-X, and TanDEM-X missions.

HiROS would represent the type of technology they would propose as part of a future SAR-Lupe follow-on proposal and have already begun working on the communications architecture. In 2005, Astrium was apparently blind-sided when they lost the MOD's SAR-Lupe contract to OHB Systems. Since then, Astrium continued advancing its SAR technology for the commercial sector with DLR and Infoterra (a subsidiary of Astrium Friedrichshafen). Although confident of their SAR technology, Infoterra realizes that the ability to incorporate HiROS into their SAR-Lupe proposal could give them the decisive technical edge over OHB.

DLR is interested in partnering with DG to accelerate the HiROS development cycle, share costs, and establish inside access to the U.S. market. In addition, Astrium viewed DG as a potential customer for two or more HiROS-type satellites. Representatives from DLR have already engaged DG in consultations and, according to a DG representative, his company prepared a Technical Assistance Agreement (TAA) application to enable them to discuss and share regulated technical data with DLR. Eckardt said that DLR explored various scenarios for international partnerships, but in the end came to the conclusion that a U.S. partnership (DG) made the most "business sense."

Although Germany is very eager to partner with the U.S. on the HiROS project, they anticipate legal hurdles with intellectual property rights (IPR) issues and view the associated exchange of sensitive technologies with the USG as potentially problematic. DLR was very motivated to step up scientific cooperation with the USG, and saw the HiROS program as an excellent prospective opportunity for future bilateral cooperation.

HiROS implementation appeared a sensible next step for Germany, both from a national security standpoint and with associated business opportunities. Germany has created a niche in the international Earth observation arena by carefully controlling system costs while maintaining focus on core/unique technical capabilities. This approach has yielded sophisticated and reliable satellite systems that provide an extraordinary amount of product for their investment, while also creating an opportunity for significant commercial exploitation. Should DLR's partnership with DG materialize, DLR indicated that the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) would be the "prime customer identified", with DG serving as the U.S. market entry point.

By 2009 Germany was taking concrete steps to achieve a full-spectrum, overhead reconnaissance capability by adding a space-based HIgh Resolution Optical System (HiROS) to their already impressive suite of space-based radar and multi-spectral systems. The German Government believed that full spectrum overhead reconnaissance was an effective force multiplier, provides an instrument of national power, and politically freed Germany from dependence on foreign sources of imagery. Germany anticipated that their emergence as a world leader in overhead reconnaissance will generate interest from the US and envisioned an expansion of the intelligence relationship.

Over the three years 2006-2009, Germany successfully fielded an impressive array of space-based radar and multispectral collectors and this success has prompted them to fill out their spectrum coverage to include an optical (HiROS) capability. Furthermore, developing a German national overhead reconnaissance capability offers the opportunity to create desirable high profile, sector-specific technology jobs and expand value-added technology exports. The BND indicated that the final decision to appropriate funding for the HiROS program would likely not be made until after the September 27, 2009 German general elections. The BND was highly confident, given their knowledge of available funding and political support, that the HiROS plan would get the go-ahead.

Germany intended to develop HiROS through a DLR (German Space Agency) /EADS Astrium public private partnership (PPP). The division of EADS Astrium that would build HiROS is the German-only InfoTerra GmbH, which has also built German space-based radar satellite systems, TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X satellites. To minimize possible political backlash from developing HiROS as an intelligence satellite, the program will be managed by a civil agency, possibly the Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi). For political optics, the satellites themselves would be operated by a "commercial entity" created specifically for this purpose, but with tasking managed/controlled/coordinated by BND. Commercial imagery sales are envisioned to help offset program development costs. BND managers were adamant that the imagery must be unclassified to enable maximum utility.

As envisioned, HiROS would consist of three electro-optical (EO) satellites and may also incorporate an infra-red (IR) sensor capability. BND proposed an EO sensor capable of 0.5 meter resolution (1.1 meter diameter mirror) and a daily revisit capability for any spot on the Earth's surface. The BND said this sensor would incorporate "smart stereo" capabilities, which is a critical technological feature that would aid in real-time, three dimensional data set production.

Germany chose 0.5 meter resolution for their HiROS based on a balance of cost factors and their ability to commercially export HiROS data. The BND stated that some elements of the German military want a higher resolution capability (possibly 0.41 meter or better), but indicated that this is not in the current plan. Germany,s domestic restrictions on the export of high resolution imagery (Satellitendatensicherheitsgestz) and their sensitivities to the United States remote sensing policy (which limits commercial EO imagery to 0.5 meter) were instrumental factors influencing Germany,s desire to export high resolution EO data while minimizing export restrictions. In addition, higher EO resolution would drive instrument costs up, increase the size/weight of the satellites, and potentially prolong the development time for HiROS.

The real value that Germany saw in an indigenous HiROS system stemmed not only from the data independence it would offer, but also from what they envision doing with the data. Currently, Germany had imagery processing software, developed by DLR, that provided high-resolution three-dimensional (3D) data sets from their indigenous space-based radar imagery and from procured HiROS imagery. Germany anticipated that DLR will evolve the processing of 3D data sets to near real-time.

The BND stressed that having their own national space-based reconnaissance assets will enable them to be a better partner with the US by bringing more unique value to the table. The BND indicated that they are anxious to precede with additional high value substantive joint projects with the US and hope that through a closer imagery exchange relationship, Germany could fill some of their collection gaps by gaining access to US imagery covering Iran, North Korea, China, and the Haqqani Network in the AFPAK region. Also of note, the BND also wanted to work with the US on GEOINT issues of mutual interest in Africa. US cooperation on additional joint projects would hinge upon the German side's ability to bring unique data sources and information to the table.

NGA officers assessed that with the launch of the TanDEM-X satellite in Fall 2009 and the proposed launch of HiROS in 2013-2014, Germany could ultimately dominate the world wide market for commercially available optical and SAR-based terrain data.




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