Greece looks to heavens for security

The government is considering launching a network of 12 lightweight satellites into orbit primarily to monitor Greece's borders for illegal immigration and construction, a source said yesterday. The government source said a scientific study has been submitted to the Security Research Center (KEMEA), which belongs to the Public Order Ministry, on the proposed satellite network. The ministry is leaning toward adopting the plan and is currently weighing other aspects of the project, including related costs and development issues, the source added. The network of satellites would revolve between 400 to 800 kilometers above the earth - much lower than other satellites, which usually orbit at about 36,000 kilometers. The satellites will be neither expensive nor bulky; they will weigh about 50 kilograms or slightly more, depending on the satellite's program, the source said. One of the network's main duties will be to monitor the country's borders for illegal immigrants. Another would be to help determine where the country's oil wealth lies. Each year, Greece catches thousands of immigrants trying to sneak into the country as a means of moving on to other parts of Western Europe. The migrants, who hail from countries such as as Iraq, often fall victim to people smugglers and enter the country under dangerous conditions. The satellites will also be able to spot illegal buildings that have gone up without the necessary state permits. Illegally constructed homes are a regular feature of the local real estate market and have been blamed for spurring arsonists to burn forested areas near cities each summer. Critics say the government is aware of the problems associated with illegal construction, but lacks the political will to get rid of the illicit industry. The cost of the project was not disclosed by the source, but officials say the European Union could help fund it. The government could award most of the project's construction to local companies such as Hellenic Aerospace Industry (EAB).