Future French spy satellites land

CSO-3, or the cursed spy satellite that has been grounded for months instead of sending pictures from orbit 800 km away. Initially, it was launched by Ariane 62 in 2021, then, at the end of 2022, by the Russian Soyuz launcher, and finally, it is now scheduled to Ariane 62 in 2023. In principle LThe first delay in the CSO-3 launch is related to the repair time of two key anomalies Industry and the consequences of the Covid-19 health crisis. Then, Ariane 6 delays forced the Air Force to select Soyuz in late 2021. Unfortunately, the Air Force had to deal with the suspension of Soyuz operations at Kourou in late February 2022, decided by Russia in retaliation for Western sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine.

Finally, theThe new delay in the first Ariane 6 flight weighed heavily on the commissioning of an important capability (optical observation) of the Air and Space Forces when it is necessary to inform the French political authorities about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The conflict also revealed weaknesses in the autonomy of the European space industry. The CSO-3 spy satellite is dependent on the commercial entry into service of Ariane 6 today, with its first flight scheduled for 2023 (initially July 2020). The European Space Agency (ESA) should communicate a first flight date this fall. This could happen in the last quarter of 2023, as some rumors have started to suggest.

CSO-3 on board Ariane 6 in 2024?

The third French spy satellite in the Optical Space Component (CSO) constellation will not be confined to a clean room for some time, but delays in the commissioning of CSO-3 may also delay the IRIS program. This new constellation will replace the CSO, whose satellites have a contractual life of ten years. CSO-1 was launched in December 2018 followed by CSO-2 in December 2020. General Frédéric Parisot, Major General of the Air and Space Forces, noted in the National Assembly at the end of July that “The launch of the CSO-3 satellite has been delayed by a year. As a result, the launch of its successor IRIS is also likely to be delayed by a year.”. Even more so if CSO-3 doesn’t take off with Ariane 6 until 2024. Will the Ministry of Armed Forces take the risk of boarding a foreign launcher?

Initially scheduled for 2028, the IRIS program, launched in 2019, is now slated for 2030. A program whose commissioning will begin in 2019 and today in 2030. “We suffer from it, or perhaps take advantage of it to spread our spending and our power.”, Air Force and Space explained number two. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Armed Forces, Airbus Space and Thales Alenia Space (TAS), along with the Directorate General for Armaments (DGA), have created a joint industrial team on space observation for the IRIS program, which will succeed the CSO. Not without harm.

In the new industrial plan, a first satellite (EHRmin), originally designed and built by Airbus, is initially put into service in 2028, followed by a second (EHRmax) developed by TAS later in 2032. Airbus will rely on silica technology (silicon carbide mirrors) while TAS will build more classic satellites in Cannes with optics similar to France’s Helios. While the first satellite will provide slightly better performance than CSO, the second will be much more efficient, especially for detection and strategic intelligence missions. According to our information, CNES will notify TAS of the contract for the development work of the critical subsystem (Phase A) for about fifty million euros. Phase B is expected in 2023.

An indefinite revision

In the space domain, Revisit (passage frequency of the satellite over the target) a real problem. “We also saw the need to rethink—the importance of staying, Regular, good pictures. It is intended to be IRIS, the successor to the CSO satellite.”, warned General Frédéric Parisot during his hearing. However, the Ministry of the Armed Forces has not yet allocated a budget to increase the IRIS program’s reconnaissance capacity, estimated at between 200 and 300 million additional euros.