The head of the Space Agency of Peru, CONIDA, Major General FAP Carlos Caballero, outlines the benefits of the PeruSAT-1 satellite. In service for only a year, it has already generated savings in excess of its $211 million cost, according to CONIDA. Credit: Peruvian Defense Ministry

PARIS —  The Peruvian government, in an assessment that will surely raise eyebrows at Planet, DigitalGlobe, Airbus Geo-Information, ImageSat and other Earth observation satellite fleet operators, has concluded that launching its own imaging satellite a year ago has already saved it more than the cost of the satellite system.

In a statement released to celebrate the first year’s operation of PeruSat-1, the Peruvian Ministry of Defense said the government has produced 80,000 images from the satellite, of which 11,259 have been distributed, free of charge, to Peruvian government agencies.

Maj. Gen. FAP Carlos Caballero, who is the head of Peru’s space agency, CONIDA, said purchasing that number of images on the commercial market would have cost the government 676 million Peruvian sols, or $209 million at current exchange rates.

Recovering full system costs in just one year?

The PeruSat-1 system — satellite construction, launch aboard a European Vega rocket and the provision of a satellite constrol center, and a technology-transfer and training program — cost 636 million sols, Caballero said. “That is, in just one year, a quantifiable return that has been recorded, and that exceeds the investment amount,” he said.

Do these numbers correlate to a real-world experience in the commercial geospatial imagery marketplace?

Spending $209 million on 80,000 images means paying an average $2,612 per image. If only 11,259 of these have been distributed to government agencies, that suggests the 80,000 figure includes images taken during cloudy days or otherwise unfavorable conditions. A purchase of commercial imagery would not be accepted by the customer if the product is not sufficiently clear.

If the lower figure of 11,259 images is used, that means Peru estimates it would pay $18,562 per image, on average, for an image equivalent to PeruSat-1s 70-centimeter-resolution picture.

Satellite imaging constellation operators regularly argue that the economics of optical Earth imaging argue in favor of a constellation approach, where many satellites can assure successful imaging of areas of interest more quickly than any single satellite.

PeruSat-1, weighing 430 kilograms at launch, is designed to operate for 10 years from 695 kilometers in altitude. Its optical imager has a 70-centimeter ground sampling distance at nadir. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

PeruSat-1 orbits a 695 kilometers in altitude and its imager has a swath width of 14.5 kilometers.

Geocentro Ltd. of Britain and Spain, a geospatial service provider that sells imagery from multiple providers, advertises a custom-tasked image with a ground sampling distance of between 30 centimeters and 1 meter would cost as little as $900, with prices of $15 per square kilometer depending on the resolution and the purchase volume.

The PeruSat-1 contract was heavily completed, with Peruvian military authorities publishing a scale of priorities and listing how much would count in the bids’ final evaluations.

Peruvian authorities awarded the contract to Airbus Defence and Space in a decision that was sharply criticized by the losing bidders as being a political deal between France and Peru rather than a straight-up competition on cost and  technical merits.

Airbus was able to deliver the satellite in less than two years.

In the end, the customer’s always right and Peruvian authorities attending the PeruSat-1: Lessons Learned – 2017 seminar said they were happy with the product.

“The satellite is our firm entry into the era of the knowledge society,” Peruvian Defense Minister Jorge Nieto Montesinos said in a statement. “The state must learn to use this instrument to benefit all Peruvians. It must be a very long-term policy.”