It is based on smaller, cheaper, more agile satellites than its predecessors, highly successful Spot series of satellites which have operated an uninterrupted service since 1986 and whose platform is currently also in use for nearly all European Low Earth Observation programmes (notably ERS, Envisat, MetOp and Helios). Pléiades incorporates innovative technology such as the gyroscopic actuators that will be carried for the first time in Europe on board the Pléiades satellites to provide unprecedented performance.
The two Pléiades satellites form the optical component of the dual civil/military French–Italian observation system Orfeo (Italy is supplying the COSMO-SkyMed radar component).
The programme is being developed under the responsibility of the French space agency CNES. Astrium is the prime contractor for the design, development, build, and delivery of the two satellites.
The satellites will be launched from the European Spaceport in Kourou by a Soyuz-Fregat rocket. The first satellite, Pléiades 1A, was launched on 16 December 2011, and the second is scheduled for launch in late 2012.
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The Pyramides of Gizeh
Pléiades Satellite Image - Cairo, Egypt © CNES 2012 Distribution Astrium Services/Spot Image