Car-Details Resolution Images Expected from New Reconnaissance Satellite

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An optical reconnaissance satellite for the French military took off from Guiana Space Center in South America atop a Russian-made Soyuz launcher on December 29 to begin a 10-year mission surveying the globe.

France’s CSO 2 spy satellite joins CSO 1, an identical craft launched in 2018, to continue replacing the French military’s older Helios family of reconnaissance satellites.

Running more than eight months late due to delays primarily caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the mission succeeded in delivering the 7,852-pound (3,562-kilogram) CSO 2 spacecraft to an on-target orbit around 300 miles (480 kilometers) above Earth.

The CSO 2 spacecraft is set to provide the highest-resolution Earth observation images ever produced by a European satellite. The first images from CSO 2 are expected to be downlinked within about two weeks of launch.

Ground teams in French Guiana confirmed separation of the CSO 2 satellite around one hour liftoff, as the spacecraft flew over a European Space Agency ground station in Australia.

CSO 2 is the second satellite to join the French military’s CSO series of orbiting reconnaissance platforms. France’s CSO 1 satellite launched on a Soyuz rocket in December 2018, and the third and final CSO satellite is scheduled to launch on Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket in 2022.

The new CSO satellites boast better global imaging capabilities than their Helios predecessors, and can take more pictures in a single overhead pass than the Helios spysats, according to the French Ministry of the Armed Forces.

The CSO satellites reportedly have a resolution of around 14 inches, or 35 centimeters, from the 500-mile-high orbit. The imaging capabilities of the U.S. government’s spy satellites are classified.

Placing the CSO 2 satellite into a lower orbit allows it to “supply imagery at the highest possible level of resolution, quality and analytical precision,” according to CNES – the National Centre for Space Studies – the French government space agency.

In its low-altitude orbit, CSO 2 could identify the details of a car. The improved imaging quality from CSO 2, flying in its lower orbit, makes the new satellite well-suited for follow-up observations from other satellites in the fleet. CSO 2 could help identify targets and reveal information not visible to satellites in higher orbits, which have a broader field-of-view.

The three CSO satellites are identical, other than an adjustment in the focusing of the optical instrument on CSO 2 to allow it to take pictures from a lower altitude, according to