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The road to space through Italy

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Fabrizio Zucchini, Head of Communication and Relations, ASI, explores how over the years ASI has become one of the most significant players in the world of space science, satellite technologies and the development of mobile systems for exploring the universe.

The Italian Space Agency was founded in 1988. Its purpose was to coordinate all of Italy's efforts and investments in the space sector that had begun in the 1960s. Today, ASI has a key role at the European level where Italy is the third contributor country to the European Space Agency. Also involved at the international level, ASI has a close working relationship with NASA, which has led to its participation in many of the most interesting scientific missions of recent years. One of the most fascinating projects has been the construction and activities of the International Space Station where Italian astronauts now feel very at home. 

Thanks to ASI's efforts, the Italian scientific community has had unprecedented successes in recent years in astrophysics and cosmology, contributing among other things to reconstructing the first moments of life in the universe or making essential steps towards understanding the gamma ray bursts phenomenon. 

ASI has also contributed significantly to space exploration by building scientific instruments that are aboard NASA and ESA probes bound for discovering the secrets of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In all of the major missions planned for future years-from Venus to the comets, up to the outer limits of our solar system, there will be a piece of Italy. 

As well as providing the means to study the Universe, from space you can observe Earth to predict and prevent environmental disasters, ensure rapid intervention in crisis-stricken areas and measure the effects of climate change. Italy is also in the forefront in this area with COSMO-SkyMed. This jewel in the crown of ASI programmes is aimed at improving our knowledge of the Earth. Developed in cooperation with the Ministry of Defence, COSMO-SkyMed is based on a constellation of four identical satellites, equipped with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) working in X-band (thus able to see through cloud cover and in the absence of sunlight). Once completed, the system will be able to perform up to 450 shots per day of the earth’s surface, equivalent to 1,800 radar images, every 24 hours.

The real strength of COSMO-SkyMed is the extraordinary flexibility of use. The eye of the radar can operate in spotlight mode (focusing on an area of a few square kilometres and observing it with a resolution down to the individual meter), stripmap (observing a continuous strip of land surface) or ScanSAR (covering an area of 200 km on each side). 

Italy, through the work of ASI and the Italian industry, pursues a tradition in the field of research in spacial propulsion. In particular ASI has the leadership in the European programme VEGA, a medium launch vehicle (for satellite up to 1.5 tons in Low Earth Orbit) fully designed in Italy. 

Nowadays, however, space is no longer an unusual sector for research. It is also an important economic opportunity. The telecommunications and satellite navigation market, just to mention one application sector, is expanding continuously. ASI, with its experience in building and placing satellites into orbit, operates in such a way that Italy will be ready to seize these opportunities. 

Now more than ever, from essential questions on understanding the universe and the origin of life, to experimenting new technologies, space is where humans can broaden their horizons, increase their knowledge and ensure a better future on Earth. Because of ASI's efforts, Italy is playing a major role in this exemplary human enterprise.

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