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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 19:58 GMT
French prepare powerful eye in sky
Place de la Concorde is one of Paris's main landmarks
Spot on: central Paris as Spot 5 would see it
Engineers in France are putting the finishing touches to what they say will be the most powerful civilian observation satellite ever.

Spot 5 will be able to pick out an object the size of car from over 800 kilometres above the Earth's surface when it is launched in April.

In the past such high-powered technology has only been available to the military.

Spot 5 project manager Michel Siguier
It can monitor natural disasters - project manager
The satellite will be used to track the effects of natural disasters, as well as to survey crops and forests and for planning purposes, France 2 television reported.

"We will be able to contribute to the planning of motorways or roads in difficult areas. We will be able to survey forest fires. We will be able to survey the effects of floods, landslides and earthquakes," said project manager Michel Siguier.

It will produce images which are up to five times clearer than those currently available, France 2 reported.

The satellite can also be used to map out the Earth's surface in relief to an accuracy of within 10 metres and will provide digital elevation models allowing customers to create 3D perspectives, for things such as flight simulation and the telecommunications industry.

The finishing touches are being applied in Toulouse
Spot 5 is five times more powerful than some rivals
It is being developed by the space company Astrium for the National Space Studies Centre (CNES) in Toulouse, southwest France, in co-operation with Sweden and Belgium.

Spot 5 will be launched into space by the Ariane rocket from Kourou in French Guiana and will circle the Earth at a height of 830 km.

It is the fifth in a series of observation satellites, the first of which was launched in 1986, and will compete with rivals such as the Ikonos and Quickbird satellites.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

05 Jul 01 | South Asia
France and India to build satellite
16 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Aid from space
11 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Non-military satellite views Earth
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