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VENµS (Vegetation and Environment monitoring on a New MicroSatellite)

VENµS is the first cooperative Earth observation program of Israel (ISA) and France (CNES). The minisatellite mission is being developed jointly by ISA (Israel Space Agency) and CNES, under a memorandum of understanding between the two space agencies, signed in April 2005. In this setup, ISA and CNES are sharing responsibilities for the VENµS program. ISA is responsible for the spacecraft bus, satellite integration, engineering data, and the satellite control center including mission operations. CNES is responsible for the science mission center, including the science data processing center and programming center. CNES is also providing the superspectral camera and is in charge of the launcher interface. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9) 10) 11) 12) 13) 14)

The main program participants are: ISA, CNES, CESBIO (Centre d'Etudes Spatiales de la BIOsphère, Toulouse, France), EL-OP (Elbit Systems Ltd. Electro-Optics of Rehovot, Israel), BGU/BIRD/RSL (Ben Gurion University of the Negev/Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research/Remote Sensing Laboratory), IAI/MBT Space Division (Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd.), and Rafael.


Figure 1: Overview of VENµS program responsibilities (image credit: CNES)

VENµS is a research demonstrator mission for the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) program, a joint initiative of ESA (European Space Agency) and the EC (European Commission). Dedicated to monitoring vegetation, it will lay the foundations of an operational GMES observatory designed to keep track of the environment and manage natural resources. The basic requirements call for: 15) 16) 17)

• Land use mapping. In this respect, VENµS is opening new horizons. Every 2 days, the satellite will cover 50 sites representative of the world's main inland and coastal ecosystems in 12 spectral bands in the visible and near-infrared.

• By mapping vegetation at high resolution using a superspectral camera, the satellite will make it possible to derive enhanced information from this type of data. More significantly, it will also help to automate and improve thematic mapping procedures.

• Other VENµS applications include assessment of carbon flux and monitoring and management of crop production and water resources. The mission will also be used to characterize water color for applications in continental hydrology and coastal oceanography.

The nominal science mission at an altitude of 720 km is planned to last for 2.5 years. This is being followed by a 1 year technology mission at an altitude of 410 km. In addition, the mission is used for a technology demonstration/validation of a new instrument: IHET (Israeli Hall Effect Thruster).


Figure 2: Illustration of the deployed minisatellite (image credit: CNES, IAI)


The minisatellite is funded by ISA. It uses an IMPS (Improved Multi Purpose Satellite) platform, designed and developed by IAI/MBT (Israel Aerospace Industries) Ltd. and Rafael (Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.). Rafael is a former sub-division of the Israeli Defense ministry and is considered a governmental firm.

The spacecraft is 3-axis stabilized using a modified IMPS (Improved Multi Purpose Satellite) platform of IAI/MBT (the same minisatellite bus is being used on the TecSAR and OPSat missions of ISA) - and is referred to as OptSat-2000. The spacecraft bus is a cylinder, 1.6 m in height x 1.2 m in diameter. The spacecraft features a tilting capability of ±30º in cross-track or along-track direction - thus, providing a FOR (Field of Regard) of 720 km. The estimated launch mass is 250 kg, the power is 800 W, the planned lifetime is 4.5 years.

The IMPS modifications concern mainly the base plate - to accommodate the two IHET engines and the tanks - and the solar panels - to provide the amount of power needed for the IHET. As the S/C contains two different propulsion systems, it has one hydrazine tank of 7 kg to feed four 1 N reduced thrusters and one xenon tank of 16 kg for one redundant IHET.

The power management system size can drive the high energy demand of the IHET system (operating range of up to 600 W).

The AOCS features star trackers, a GPS receiver and reaction wheels, providing good pointing accuracy performance during imaging periods.


Figure 3: Block diagram of the VENµS spacecraft (image credit: IAI, CNES)

Spacecraft Platform


Spacecraft mass, power

260 kg, 800 W

Spacecraft size

1.6 m x 1.2 m (in stowed configuration)

Spacecraft design life

4.5 years

Spacecraft agility

Body pointing capability of ±30º into any direction, FOR = 720 km

AOCS (Attitude & Orbit Control Subsystem)

Provision of 2 star trackers, a GPS receiver and reaction wheels

IHET (Israeli Hall Effect Thruster):

-1 x IHET redundant, 14 kg Xenon
- 4 x 1 N redundant thrusters, 7 kg hydrazine

Table 1: Overview of satellite parameters


Figure 4: The VENµS spacecraft in stowed configuration at launch (image credit: CNES, IAI)


Launch: A launch of the VENµS spacecraft is planned for mid-2014 on a PSLV vehicle of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization). The launch provider is the Antrix Corporation of Bangalore, India.

Orbit: Sun-synchronous orbit: altitude = 720 km, inclination = 98.27º, LTDN (Local Time on Descending Node) = 10:30 hours, revisit time of 2 days (29 revolutions).

RF communications: The TT&C communication is in S-band. The science data are downlinked in X-band (data rate of 2 x 155 Mbit/s). An onboard data storage capacity of 30 GByte is provided.


Spacecraft operations:

The operational mission time is divided into three distinct phases.

1) VM1 (VENµs Mission 1): VM1 will start after the IOT (In Orbit Test) phase; it will mainly be devoted to the science mission objectives and is planned to last for 2.5 years. During VM1, the spacecraft will acquire images from the nominal orbit at 720 km altitude.
Once a month, the IHET will be operated for a couple of days, performing various experiments as well as orbit control to return the satellite to its nominal VM1 orbit. Once a year, between mid-October and mid-November, when normally no crops or agricultural grows are being monitored, the entire month will be dedicated to the technology demonstration mission.

2) VM2 (VENµs Mission 2): VM2 is the orbit transfer phase in which the spacecraft will descend to a new lower operational orbit. The phase will last for up to six months during which no imaging is taking place. The technological mission is being performed during this period in which IHET will be operated in each orbit until the spacecraft reaches the new VM3 orbit at a nominal altitude of 410 km.

3) VM3 (VENµs Mission 3): In the VM3 phase the technological mission and the science mission will be operated in an interleaving mode - requiring the spacecraft to alternate constantly between imaging and IHET firings. The IHET is expected to correct the orbit after every three imaging orbits due to the increased drag rate. - The VM3 mission phase is planned for 1 year after which the spacecraft will be disposed.

Parameter / VENµs mission phase

VM1 (high orbit)

VM3 (low orbit)

Orbit type

Sun-synchronous, circular

Sun-synchronous, circular


720 km

410 km

Revisit time

2 days (29 orbits)

2 days (31 orbits)

Swath width

27.5 km

13 km

Imaging resolution

5.3 m

2.9 m

LTDN (Local Time on Descending Node)

10:30 hours

10:30 hours

Table 2: Summary of mission phase parameters


Figure 5: Timeline of the VENµS mission (image credit: IAI/MBT, Rafael Ltd, CNES)


Sensor complement: (VSSC, IHET)

VSSC (VENµS Superspectral Camera):

The prime objective of the VENµS science mission is to provide digital imagery to be able to study the monitoring, analysis, and modeling of land surface parameter behavior. The goal is also to demonstrate the relevance of superspectral, high spatial resolution observations with frequent revisit capabilities in the context of the European Kopernikus/GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) program.

CNES is responsible for the provision of the camera and the image ground segment. The camera, being built by EL-OP under CNES contract, is of MSRS (Multi-Spectral high Resolution Sensor) heritage which was developed by EL-OP and OHB System of Bremen, Germany. The camera provides 12 simultaneous overlapping Earth images with high spatial and high spectral resolution. With 12 narrow spectral bands in the VNIR (Visible Near Infrared) spectral region and 5.3 m ground resolution, the VENµS camera introduces a new level of superspectral high spatial resolution Earth imaging for a wide range of commercial and scientific applications.

VSSC is a 12 band imager with the following characteristics: 18) 19) 20) 21) 22) 23) 24)

• Swath: 27.56 km

• Spatial resolution: 5.3 m

• Number of spectral bands: 12 (VNIR)

• Spacecraft body tilting capability: ±30º in cross-track and along-track

• Data quantization: 10 bit

• Lmin (minimum radiance) defined for the mission.


Center wavelength (nm)

Bandwidth (nm)

Lmin (W/m2/sr/µ)

SNR @ 10 m GSD

Main objective






Atmospheric correction






Aerosols, clouds






Atmospheric correction, water












Vegetation indices






DEM, image quality






Red edge






Red edge






Red edge






Red edge






Vegetation indices






Water vapor

Table 3: Spectral characteristics of the VSSC instrument

VSSC is a pushbroom-type imager consisting of the following major elements:

• A catadioptric objective

• A focal plane with 4 detector units, each with 3 separate CCD-TDI arrays

• Operating electronics and interface to the satellite transmitter

• Thermal control

• A sun shield and thermal shield.


Figure 6: Illustration of the VSSC instrument (image credit: EL-OP, CNES)


Figure 7: Camera configuration (image credit: EL-OP, CNES)


Figure 8: The focal plane configuration of the VSSC (image credit: EL-OP, CNES)

The optics subsystem employs a Ritchie-Cretien reflective type objective fitted with auxiliary lenses for the correction of aberrations. Narrow-band interference filters are used to ensure the required wavelength characteristics. The primary and secondary lenses are made of Zerodur; they are lightweighted to reduce the camera mass. The optics subsystem is maintained at a constant temperature of 20 ±3ºC to ensure proper focusing of the system.


Figure 9: Photo of a lightweighted mirror (image credit: EL-OP, CNES)

Optical aperture diameter

250 mm

Focal length, f/number

1750 mm, 7.0

FOV (Field of View)

2.2º (cross-track direction)
1.5º (scan direction)

Swath width, GSD

27.8 km, 5.35 m

Data quantization

10 bit

Overall instrument size

~ 1.2 m x 0.4 m

Instrument total mass

43.5 kg

Table 4: Some parameters of the VSSC instrument

Focal plane assembly (FPA): Four detector units, each with 3 separate CCD-TDI (Time Delay Integration) arrays, are combined in the focal plane assembly. The detectors selected are triple-junction units. Each array has 32 TDI rows with 5200 pixels per row. The number of TDI stages may be selected individually for each array. The TDI options are: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, or 32 rows.

The physical layout of the focal plane is shown in Figure 8. Two of the detectors receive the image directly from the objective while in the other two, the image is reflected by a folding mirror. This enables the distance between the outermost bands in the focal plane to be minimized.


Figure 10: Illustration of a three-array TDI detector unit (image credit: El-Op Ltd.)


Figure 11: Schematic layout of the TriT detector (image credit: EL-OP, CNES)

The telescope structure consists of a lightweighted bezel of titanium to which the primary mirror is fixed, and a composite-material tube which keeps the secondary mirror at the correct distance. The focal plane uses invar material to provide a stable thermal environment for the detector units. In front of each detector unit is a field stop, on which the absorption filters are mounted.


Figure 12: Longitudinal section of the VSSC imager (image credit: EL-OP)

The objective is covered with a cylindrical shield which extends also in front of the telescope thereby acting as a sunshield. The inner part of the telescope, referred to as TCSA (Thermal Control Shield Assembly), provides thermal control to the optical subsystem.

Instrument calibration: Without the availability of an on-board calibration system, periodic imaging of known targets (instrumented sites) will be used together with occasional imaging of the moon at a specific phase. Also, extensive pre-launch calibration of the instrument will be carried out (Ref 21).

The VSSC data will be acquired over existing or planned experimental sites with size ranging from 27 km x 27 km to 27 km x 54 km or more. All data for a given site will be acquired with the same observation angle in order to minimize directional effects. The baseline product for these selected sites is time composite images of geometrically registered surface reflectances at 10 m resolution. Strong efforts are devoted to provide high quality data, both in term of radiometry (e.g. SNR around 100), geometry (e.g. multitemporal registration better than 3 m), and atmospheric corrections.


IHET (Israeli Hall Effect Thruster):

IHET was developed by Rafael Ltd., Israel. The IHET will be used for autonomous orbit maintenance to enable continuation of the scientific mission. The newly developed instrument is to be space qualified during a separate technology demonstration mission at the end of the science mission. The objective of IHET is to provide the capabilities of general orbit maintenance as well as to demonstrate a LEO-LEO orbit transfer (Ref 3). IHET is also codenamed HET-300. 25) 26) 27) 28) 29)

The electric thruster will first be used with the satellite on its orbit at an altitude of 720 km (science mission of 2.5 years). Following a descent phase down to an altitude of 410 km, the plasma motor will then be used to compensate for drag and to keep the satellite at that altitude for one year.

The orbit change and orbit maintenance shall be performed by operating the EPS (Electric Propulsion System) autonomously in a cyclic mode according to power availability at each orbit. In total, each thruster will be activated for about 2500 cycles and will accumulate more than 1000 operating hours to accomplish the above mentioned missions.

Thruster operating principles:

- Xe gas directed to distribution channel (Anode)

- Electrons emitted from cathode, collide with Xe atoms, and ionizing them

- Applied magnetic field, spiral electrons in the thruster channel

- Electric field accelerate ions out of the channel

- Ions neutralization at exit by electrons from the cathode.


Figure 13: Schematic illustration of the ion thruster operating principle (image credit: Rafael)

EPS configuration:

The PBA (Propulsion Base Assembly) is designed, manufactured and tested as a standalone module by Rafael. The PBA includes two propulsion systems: the HPS (Hydrazine Propulsion System) and the EPS, as shown in Figure 14. The two Hall thrusters of the EPS are positioned on opposite edges of the plate where their thrust vectors are aimed toward the satellite COG (Center of Gravity).


Figure 14: PBA configuration with EPS and HPS (image credit: Rafael) 30)

Figure 15 shows a schematic flow diagram of the EPS. Xenon at a pressure of 86 bar is stored in the propellant tank and locked by the high pressure LVM (Latch Valve Module). Pressure is then reduced by the pressure regulator assembly to 1.9 bar absolute. Xenon flow is distributed to the cathodes the anodes line. Cathodes lines include a common getter for the two cathodes and at the end of each line there is CVM (Cathode Valve Module) which shut / open the flow to the selected cathode. The CVM includes flow restrictors that control the flow rate to the cathode. The two anode lines include a single DXFC (Digital Xenon Flow Controller) that delivers controlled mass flow rate according to mission requirements.

The active thruster to be fired is selected by the TSU (Thruster Selecting Unit) and the active AVM (Anode Valve Module), which open / shut the flow path to the relevant thruster. The AVM and the CVM constitute the TVM (Thruster Valve Module). In case of a power failure, the TVM's solenoid valves shall shut off and will prevent Xenon loss to space. The PPU (Power Processing Unit) that incorporates the TSU and the SCU (Sequence Control Unit) supplies electric power to operate the thrusters and electricity to the active valves. The SCU controls thruster power level by commanding the DXFC setting i.e. Xenon flow rate in a close loop with the discharge current.


Figure 15: Flow diagram of the EPS (image credit: Rafael)


Figure 16: Photo of the IHET instrument, the HET-300 model (image credit: Rafael)

Isp (specific impulse)

> 1300 s @ 300 W input


≥15 mN @ 300 W (anodic power)

Power operations range

250-600 W

Total impulse

> 90 kNs

Operating life

> 1000 hours

Number of operations

> 2000 on/off

Table 5: Key parameters of the IHET-300 W instrument


Ground segment:

Two ground facility locations will be used to process and analyze the data. SMIGS (Scientific Mission Image Ground Segment) is the processing facility for the imaging data, located at CNES in France. The objective is to command the spacecraft imager for the imaging targets and to process and distribute the products to the scientific community. The TMC (Technological Mission Center) takes care of the technological mission operations in space. It will also process the data and analyze the performance of the IHET. TMC is located at Rafael in Israel. 31)

CNES is responsible for the provision of the camera and the image ground segment. ISA is in charge of the platform (provided by IAI - Israel Aerospace Industry and RAFAEL - Advanced Defense Systems), the IHET system, the satellite control center and the operation of the satellite.

The ground segment consists of:

• Command and control center (IAI/MBT, Israel)

• X-band receiving station (Kiruna, Sweden), in charge of receiving the imaging data from the satellite.

• A Data Processing Ground Segment in charge of acquiring, processing, archiving and distributing the VENµS scientific and associated data generated in-orbit with:

- Scientific Mission Image Ground Segment (SMIGS), located at CNES which processes the data from raw telemetry to level 1, 2 and 3 products, and performs the image quality check

- VENµS Products Distribution Server (VPDS), hosted by POSTEL for the interface with the scientific community for VENµS products.

• Technological Mission Center (Rafael, Israel), in charge of planning the Technological Mission, analyzing and archiving the VENµS Technological Payload (IHET) data.


Figure 17: Overview of the VENµS mission elements (image credit: Rafael)

The scientific mission program activities are split between the French SMIGS and the GCS (Ground Segment Center) located at IAI/MBT in Israel. 32)

• GCS is responsible for the overall satellite command and control. It includes a SCC (Satellite Control Center) and a TT&C for S-band communications. In addition, there is an X-band station for optional direct downloads of images.

• The TMC (Technological Mission Center) at Rafael (Israel) processes the IHET telemetry. TMC has also the task of to program the satellite during IHET operations.

• VRS (VENµS Receiving Station), an X-band station in Kiruna, receives the image raw data and some auxiliary data. This auxiliary data includes AOCS, GPS, and star tracker data, but also some IHET auxiliary data.

• SMIGS at CNES is responsible for the programming of the scientific mission and the processing of the imaging products.


Figure 18: Overview of ground segment elements (image credit: CNES)

1) “Joint French-Israeli VENµS mission,” July 2005, URL:


3) J. Herscovitz, “Systems Engineering in Venµs Satellite,” 9th Annual Systems Engineering Conference, NDIA (National Defense Industrial Association) 2006, San Diego, CA, USA, Oct. 23-26, 2006, URL:



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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates.