Bernice, ONERA’s “Flying Laboratory”

Since de Gaulle returned to power in June 1958, the question of arming himself with ballistic missiles for nuclear deterrence has arisen. There are two options: buy them under an American license or develop them yourself. While waiting for the question to be decided, the National Office for Aeronautical Studies and Research (ONERA) is conducting preliminary research on the atmospheric re-entry of a warhead.

Primary education

Several areas need to be cleaned, such as aerodynamics, materials, dynamic heating, etc. Flight tests are then essential for obtaining data. To this end, Onere’s physics department is proposing the development of an experimental four-stage missile, including powder propulsion, from its small OPD technical rocket: OPd 56-39-22-D. The first test took place on May 2, 1959, from the island of Levant, where they were used to test its devices with the logistical support of the Navy (which has special machines at its testing and research center). The first three stages are used for climbing (up to about 150 km), while the fourth accelerates the tip during landing. If the first test demonstrates the quality of the instrument and the means of transmission, the second test obtains information about aerodynamic and thermal phenomena after the peak of the study on 22 October. The context is changing …

The advent of Sereb

On September 17, 1959, the company was created to study and manufacture ballistic missiles (CEREB), which are responsible for the design of ballistic missiles carrying nuclear weapons. After the success of the first Veronica AGI sounding rocket in March 1959 (from Hammaguir, Algeria) and the OPd 56-39-22-D in May, it finally persuaded the government to install the Sereb. The latter then gathered around themselves as shareholders: Nord-Aviation, Interest-Aviation, SEPR, Snakema, Dassault, Matra, Onera, but the Army’s Technical Department (DEFA, DTIA, DCCAN) and Powder Service. Since May 1960, they have conducted tests under contract for interest-aviation (which provided re-entry head) and Cereb. In total, twelve OPd 56-39-22-D – named “Antarès” in October 1960 – tested various warheads from March 1961 to March 8. Seven of the twelve gave promising results, but insufficient.

A more efficient survey missile

The issue of rockets has become so important that the Testing Systems and Mines Division (DSME) was created in 1958 within the office. Andre Raymondier, head of the research team on piloting and automated stability, noted that “Since 1962, Pierre Conteso (who was already the head of DSME) has turned DSME into a kind of super management in the Department of Synthesis Studies (DES). It has three areas: aeronautics (warming of Concorde’s wings), defense (re-entry head for Strike Force missiles) and aerospace (aided by sounding rocket and launcher projects). “. Regarding the second area, it was decided to improve the performance of Antarès and aim for higher speeds. For this, a new one “Flying Labs” Says Berenice. “After Antares, we decided to choose the name of another star or constellation Starting with a b [Chevelure de Bérénice]Hence the name Bérénice.Andre Raymondier in hiding a few years ago.

Features of Berenice

With a total mass of 3,340 kg (compared to 1,785 for Antarès) and an altitude of 13.25 m (compared to 12.3 m), Berenice is a four-stage rocket, using powder propellant blocks supplied by the study company for jet propulsion (SEPRSE). Benefited from a number of innovations, starting with the first stage of the “BER” which has an automatic pilot that controls the orientation of four small steerable auxiliary thrusters (equipped with SEPR 167 units) jets, from which the base is fixed in a barrel. Floor. After separating the first stage (SEPR 739 / Stromboli), the rocket is stabilized in the second stage (SEPR 740 / Stromboli) by four stationary tailplanes, while the third (SEPR 200 / Tramontane) and the third (Onera block / Mélanie) are by conical skirts. During the test, the missile is fired almost vertically (85). The first stage works for 20 seconds, bringing the missile to an altitude of 8 km, then following the second stage for 18 seconds up to 40 km; Then the machine starts to climb up to about 270 kilometers, then it comes down again. From there, the third and third steps accelerate the missile to an altitude of 55 km. The actual test starts and lasts only 20 seconds.


On June 27, 1962, Onra technicians fired the first shots at Berenice from Levant Island. However, it failed, due to the problem of breaking the telemetry antenna wire. After succeeding on 6 July, the experiments on 30 October and 13 November 1962 failed again because they did not burn properly in the second stage. It did not witness a complete breakthrough until June 27, 1963: that day, Bérénice 05 ended at an altitude of about 270 km, then, during landing, reached Mach 12, a record speed in Europe at that time. ! In total, between June 1962 and December 1965, eleven barrenis were used to test equipment at high speeds and altitudes, to deepen knowledge of flight mechanics, piloting and aerothermodynamics. Note that since 1965, they have developed a new back-to-school experimental program called Electre. At Tiber in 1971-72, two flights will be tested using a three-stage rocket, the first of which will be a BER combination.

Berenice and Space Adventures

As space develops, they interact with the CNS. Thus, the latter seeks to observe the sun during a visible eclipse in Argentina in 1966. For this, they are supplying two sounding rockets (Titus) on a turnkey basis, using the first two stages of Berenice (with a slightly longer SEPR 740-3 second stage). These were successfully launched on November 12, 1966, near Las Palmas (Chaco province). Notice that the efficient BER stage ensured high accuracy of the trajectory, which was vital for testing. Twelfth (and last) Berenice was used on May 4, 1966, on Levant Island, for optimal preparation for a delicate operation. After this date, there will be no sequel to Berenice about the space adventure.

Finally, in April 1963, Onra proposed to change a Berenice to place a 3.5 kg satellite (Satmos) in an elliptical orbit (perig: 250 km, apogee: 1,800 km, trend: 51 °), with an estimated lifespan of 78 days. . It could be launched in early 1964 … ONERA announced. But the usefulness of such an operation was not obvious, not to mention that Sereb was engaged in the construction of the Diamond Launcher which, for its part, provided a capacity of 80 kg at 500 km. And this is the diamond that made the first satellite on November 26, 1965.

Some references

An article : “Berenice, March 12”Jack Morriset, Air and cosmos No. 17, July 15, 1963

A report From ONERA, Berenice, back-to-school study rocketPierre Contensou, 1965

Match Between Andre Raymondier and Philip Vernotox, 2009, 2010, 2019

A website: Rockets in EuropeJean-Jack is the best.

Philippe Varnoteaux is a doctor of history, an expert on the beginnings of space exploration in France, and the author of several reference works.

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