Those lights that are high above and which shine Italian pride, are no natural stars. It is the constellation of four high-resolution x-band radar satellites on the mission COSMO-Skymed, of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense, the ministry of Education, the University, and the Research. A project of national excellence, the first dual system of satellite observation, for the purpose of civil protection and military security, the only one in the world that employs four satellites that orbit the Earth, equipped with active radar sensors which are a source of energy for remote monitoring across hundreds of thousands of kilometers. By 2018, two satellites of new generation will be put into orbit. They will cost 555 million euros. The project employs over 400 engineers and technicians.
Launched in 2007, 2008 and 2010, at the cost of one billion and 137 million euros, from 2011 those electronic eyes scan the planet day and night, with 450 daily shots of the entire surface of the earth, no matter what the meteorological or illumination conditions are, 1,800 three-dimensional images geolocate every 24 hours, four runs a day over Italy, seven over Rome, for a complete mapping of the national territory over a period of 16 days. With pinpoint accuracy, they provide dynamic information on an observed point. The radar works in spotlight mode (observation focused on a few square kilometers), strip-map (on a continuous strip), scanSar (on a surface of 200 kilometers).
Last September 9, an agreement was signed in Washington with NASA for an “exchange” of satellite information.
Other agreements have been signed with France, Japan, Argentina, and there is one, which is work in progress, with Germany. At the project are collaborating a team of Italian industries, ringleaders Finmeccanica-Thales Alenia Space Italia-Telespazio, together with a limited number of international suppliers. An important contribution is provided Copernicus, the European program of Earth observation.
Among the many uses of the system, there is prevention and management of environmental disasters (floods, landslides, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions), assessment of damages, control of the conditions of the oceans and coasts, as well as water pollution, monitoring of the terrain and crops, mountain and woods heritage, detection of soil and subsoil, buildings and infrastructures. Through sensors added to the concrete, for instance, it it is possible to monitor the stability and security of buildings, roads, and highways. Besides, with the help of this evolved and intelligent satellite system was realized the operation of stability control, recovery and displacement of the Costa Concordia after its sinking.
Civil Protection used Cosmo-Skymed for interventions in many tragic national cases and emergency situations, such as floods in Emilia Romagna, Veneto, and on the Tyrrhenian Coast, earthquakes and Etna and Stromboli eruptions. Moreover. The satellites served as support the lone sailor Maurizio Miceli, this year, to chart the course and to avoid storms and icebergs during the dangerous passage to the South of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Cosmo-Skymed system can focus on “tactical” and “strategic” details, it monitors the flow of migrants in the Channel of Sicily and allows to observe the so-called “sensitive” targets of terrorist attacks. Currently managed by the Intelligence Services, the mission is, in short, a flagship of the advanced national and strategic industry is a very precious gift, but it is not used enough, at present, for the safety of the country, the control of risks, the prevention of disasters, and the organization of the intervention in the context of an integrated, cultural, scientific, technical, economic, environmental, and even military national security strategy.
Currently, only the Chiefs of the Defense staff are able to select high-resolution images of small objects (40 centimeters), the joint center for satellite remote sensing in the military airport of Pratica di Mare, near Rome. The control center of the Fucino Space Center is responsible for the putting the satellites in orbit, the activities of command and control, and for planning the requests for acquisition of images. Matera Space Center is responsible for the acquisition, processing, and distribution of the data.
In a nutshell, the main function of the mission, at the moment, is fundamental and strategic support of the armed forces. It is a pity that it is used almost exclusively in this field, considering it might be more useful for civil purposes. A slap in the face of the optimisation of national resources and that of a concept of security and of development as a service to the citizens who should represent a priority for a democratic, republican, and civil State.
“A network should be created, a national consortium of public institutions and private companies, supported by the government, in order to process all the information gathered and stored in a single vast database, with the purpose of a joint action for the security of the national territory and of the entire planet, rather than individual spot interventions” –, says to Interris.it the director of the mission, Alessandro Coletta, also lecturer at the Department of Earth Sciences of the Roman University “La Sapienza”.
“Cosmo-Skymed might allow an exclusively Italian civil security service, in systematic collaboration with institutions such as CNR (National Research Center), Ispra (Institute for research and environmental protection) or university and private spin-offs, thanks to agreement protocols, making a better use of this strategic asset,” says Coletta.
In the meantime, those eyes of evolved technology, the mirror of the Italian soul, continue their journey around the Earth, silently scanning us while waiting for a national security strategy to be developed in order to be used in a better way.