Airbus Pléiades Neo Satellites arrive in Kourou, French Guiana for launch on Arianespace’ Vega C rocket (picture courtesy of Airbus)

Airbus Pléiades Neo Satellites arrive in Kourou, French Guiana for launch on Arianespace’ Vega C rocket

Airbus Defense and Space is building and operating a constellation of LEO satellite for Earth Observation, called Pléiades. The constellation is result on the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters, a non-binding agreement for providing charitable and humanitarian satellite data to relief organizations in the event of disasters. The Charter was created in November 2000 by ESA and CNES from France, with the aim of providing satellite images in order to help and support humanitarian efforts during emergencies caused by major disasters. This service is available 24/7/365 and is free of charge. The Pléiades satellites offer unfailing support for the Charter since in recent years, around 40% of the damage maps have been produced from data acquired by the Pléiades satellites.

In 2011 the very high-resolution satellite Pléiades-HR 1A was launched from the Guiana Space Center, joined by its twin Pléiades-HR 1B a few months later. This was the start of what is known as the Pléiades constellation, which makes it possible to create imagery product of every point of the globe at a 50cm resolution within a few hours and to guarantee a daily revisit, with more than one million km² acquired each day.

The Pléiades constellation has demonstrated its reactivity during the earthquake that rocked Ecuador on April 16th, 2016, providing an image on the town of Pedernales in just four hours after being acquired. Immediately delivered to the local authorities, it enabled organizers to provide the various relief operations, and to carry out a rapid assessment of the damage.

The precision of the Pléiades imagery, coupled with the speed of acquisition over large regions, also played a key role in demonstrating the demolition of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria by the Islamic State in 2015 and thereby creating a consciousness for the need of preservation of this UNESCO world heritage site.

The two satellites, built and operated by Airbus Defense and Space on behalf of CNES (the French Space Agency), are the first European satellites to observe the Earth in very high resolution. Providing imagery products at 50cm resolution with a 20km swath, they are positioned 180° apart in a same near-polar, sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 694 km. They also have remarkable agility which allows them to aim a point up to 1500 km on either side of their track. This gives them a fast zone-pointing capability and multiple shooting modes (stereo, mosaics, corridor, targets).

Pléiades Neo is the first constellation of four identical 30-centimeter (cm) satellites owned and operated by Airbus Defense and Space. Neo 3 launched by Arianespace on April 29th, 2021 from Guiana Space Centre, Kourou, French Guiana and was followed soon after by Neo 4 on August 17th. Neo 5 and Neo 6 are scheduled to launch in December 2022. All four Pléiades Neo satellites will be on the same orbit, phased 90 degrees from each other – allowing for two revisits per day across the globe. By the end of 2022, the Pléiades Neo constellation will collect up to 2 million sq km. of imagery a day with a 14km swath width.

Along with the 30cm panchromatic band, Pléiades Neo boasts six 1.2m multispectral bands, including deep blue, blue, green, red, red edge and near-infrared. Pléiades Neo is entirely open to commercial clients, with no government ownership of tasking time, thereby increasing its collection capacity.