COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation: An all-Italian success

09 July 2020

The first COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation satellite (CSG), launched on 18 December 2019, was a major milestone in space technology, thanks to its on-board technology which offers services and applications designed to improve the health of our planet and the safety of citizens.

An example of Italy’s technological excellence, COSMO-SkyMed is the flagship of Italian innovation and has involved significant contributions from Leonardo and its joint venture companies Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio. It is funded by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and Italian Ministry of Defence, and strengthens Italy's leadership in the space and satellite Earth observation (EO) sector.

COSMO-SkyMed is a unique space system, since it is equipped with a second generation Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capable of simultaneously acquiring images of two areas located at a distance of hundreds of kilometers from each other. This is thanks to the satellite’s dual polarisation functionality – born from the vision and expertise of Thales Alenia Space Technical Manager, Diego Calabrese , who led the development of the CSG – combined with the agility of the electronics on-board. This advanced technology opens the door to unique innovation by simultaneously meeting two requests, something satellite systems have not previously been able to do due to conflicting requirements.

All first and second generation COSMO-SkyMed satellites are equipped with radar imaging – a synthetic aperture antenna that works in the X band and can scan the Earth regardless of solar lighting or weather conditions. It behaves a bit like bats when they encounter obstacles, by using the electromagnetic waves. However, the CSG provides superior imagery than the first generation satellites because it can perfectly recognise the geometric shapes of the territory and transmit details such as water, trees, crops, glaciers and snow. 

The second generation SAR sensor represents the state-of-the-art nature of EO systems based on radar technology. Thanks to this versatility, the dual civil and military satellite system performs an essential role in multiple situations, from the security and surveillance of territories to the prevention and analysis of natural or man-made disasters. Additionally, the data captured can help the agricultural sector reduce costs and waste, while limiting the use of environmentally harmful pesticides, as well as improving product quality and saving time, energy and water resources. Furthermore, the CSG is indispensable for monitoring landslides, floods, earthquakes, fires, droughts, desertification and deforestation.

On 28 April 2020, CSG provided the first image of Genoa’s rebuilt Morandi bridge, which collapsed in August 2018, tragically killing 43 people. The panoramic image showed all 1,067 meters of the new bridge. CSG has also recently acquired an image of the Liwa Oasis in the United Arab Emirates. The oasis is located on the northern border of Rub 'al Khali, the large desert area in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, which is one of the most inhospitable areas on the planet. Thanks to the sustainable agriculture based on drip irrigation technology and greenhouses, Liwa’s small farms provide an essential barrier against desertification and the inexorable progress of the sand dunes. This type of prevention against desertification is possible by the means of a continuous monitoring of the satellites.

Looking ahead, CSG will be a major player in the ongoing development of the space economy, one of the most promising sectors of the global economy. 
The space economy or ‘New Space Economy’ segment, where Italy has a position of excellence thanks to its technologies, certainly represents huge business opportunities in the future. The companies that are the first to exploit the combination of digital and space technologies will establish a clear competitive advantage, offering innovative products, services and solutions that will benefit billions of people.

Leonardo’s contribution to Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation (CSG)


Leonardo has made an important contribution to CSG, through its subsidiaries and affiliates. In particular, Thales Alenia Space, (a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%)), is responsible for the end-to-end system and radar satellites, while Telespazio (a joint venture between Leonardo (67%) and Thales (33%)), is responsible for the Ground Segment. In addition, Leonardo contributes to the programme by providing stellar attitude sensors for satellite orientation, photovoltaic panels and electronic units for managing electrical power. Currently, the CSG is completing the in-orbit testing phase which will bring it to operationally support the four First Generation COSMO-SkyMed satellites, consequently increasing the system’s overall capacity.

e-GEOS (formed by Telespazio (80%) and ASI (20%)), is the company responsible for marketing the products and services offered by COSMO-SkyMed all over the world.

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