France in Space #339

Status Report From: Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES)
Posted: Thursday, May 18, 2006


ESA officially selected EADS Astrium as prime contractor for the Gaia (Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics) astrometry mission on May 11th in Toulouse, France. The Gaia satellite has an ambitious mission to create a 3D map of the Milky Way; it is expected to be the largest and most precise map to date. Of the mission's 557 million euro price tag, EADS Astrium will receive 317 million euros to act as the lead in Gaia's manufacturing team. Astrium affiliates in Britain, France, Germany and Spain will retain approximately a third of this amount with the rest being spent on dozens of subcontractors chosen from ESA's 17 member states. The two-metric-ton satellite will feature twin silicon carbide telescopes built around a single 1 billion pixel focal array and will orbit around the L2 Lagrange point, 1.6 million kilometers from Earth. Thanks to its incredible sensitivity Gaia will endeavor to identify 20,000 exoplanets and several tens of thousands of new bodies in the Solar System and will measure the temperature, age and composition of roughly 1 billion stars during its five year lifespan. Gaia's launch is scheduled for December 2011 aboard a Soyuz rocket. [ESA 05/11/06, Space News 05/15/06, Aviation Week 05/15/06, Agence France Presse 05/11/06, Les Echos 05/12/06]


Weather forecasting around the globe is set to take one giant step into the future when Eumetsat's MetOp-A satellite is launched July 17th, 2006. On board, the satellite will be carrying IASI (Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer), a new instrument developed by CNES, in cooperation with Eumetsat, and built by Alcatel Alenia Space. For meteorologists, the launch of IASI is deemed a considerable advance as they will be gaining a half day in weather forecast precision; i.e. when the spacecraft becomes operational in 2007, weather forecasts will be as reliable over two days as they are now for a day and a half. IASI has been designed for operational meteorological soundings with a very high level of accuracy and is also capable of studying and monitoring atmospheric chemistry, in particular, gases like ozone, methane or carbon monoxide. Three IASI instruments were built by Alcatel Alenia Space and will be integrated into the MetOp-A, B and C spacecraft which are scheduled for launch 2006, 2010 and 2015, respectively. The MetOp satellites are to be paired with satellites from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to ensure continuous coverage around the globe. [Le Figaro 05/13/06, Nice Matin 05/13/06, CNES 05/09/06]


Managers for Eumetsat's MetOp-A polar-orbiting weather satellite will go ahead with its scheduled launch on July 17th regardless of the last-minute replacement of one of its instruments. The Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit-A (AMSU-A), furnished by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was removed from the MetOp-A satellite in mid-April after satellite controllers at Baikonur noticed that the instrument's ball bearings lacked sufficient lubrication to allow correct functioning in orbit. Officials from Eumetsat, the European weather-satellite organization which will operate the satellite, expect that a replacement AMSU-A instrument will arrive in Europe by May 18th and will then be shipped to Baikonur for re-integration. Eumetsat's MetOp program manager, Marc Cohen, praised U.S. partners for being "extremely responsive" on this issue, and firmly believes that the July 17th launch will be possible. MetOp-A was originally scheduled for launch on June 30th, 2006. [Space News 05/15/06]


On Monday, May 15th, during the Case for Space Conference in London, England, ESA and Avanti Screenmedia Group PLC announced the signature of a contract for the implementation of HYLAS (Highly Adaptable Satellite). According to the contract, EADS Astrium will act as prime contractor for the project, with support from ESA and the British National Space Centre. The project is estimated to cost 120 million euros, of which ESA will contribute 34 million euros; the contract between ESA and Avanti covers support for the development of the most innovative elements of the new system. The HYLAS satellite is a hybrid Ka Band/Ku Band spacecraft that will offer coverage over 22 European countries. It will be used mainly to provide broadband internet access and to distribute and broadcast High Definition Television. HYLAS' Broadband payload will be able to accommodate traffic from 150,000 to 300,000 simultaneous users. In addition, ESA and Avanti will work together to develop the original payloads based on the combined use of EADS Astrium's Limited General Flexible Payload technology and TSAT Flexible Traveling Wave Tubes, which will allow efficient assignment of satellite power and spectrum to each spot as a function of its respective traffic demand. HYLAS is expected to be launched in late 2008 and has an operational lifetime of 15 years. [ESA 05/15/06, Agence France Presse 05/15/06]


The Italian aerospace research agency's (CIRA) hopes that their reusable or semi-reusable launcher project known as Unmanned Space Vehicle (USV) will be part of ESA's Future Launcher Preparatory Program (FLPP) just got an important boost. At December's Ministerial Council, FLPP, which is intended to pave the way for a next-generation launch system (a possible replacement for Ariane 5), was granted at least 283 million euros in funding, with a significant portion of that sum coming from Italy. CIRA plans to commence drop tests of the USV from a high-altitude balloon this summer. The agency will carry out at least four drop tests by the end of 2007, gradually increasing the altitude with each test (up to 40 km). USV is one of numerous nationally financed European technology demonstration projects that are eventually expected to be rolled into FLPP. CIRA is also currently working on the USV-X, Unmanned Space Vehicle Experimental project, a reusable test vehicle that could be launched by the Vega light booster from Kourou, French Guiana. The first flight of the USV-X could happen as early as 2011; the project is currently estimated at 120 million euros. [Aviation Week 05/08/06]


Space agencies from around the world met in Sarteano, Italy last week to participate in the joint ESA / ASI (Italian Space Agency) Workshop for International Cooperation for Sustainable Space Exploration. Over 60 participants attended the second such ESA / ASI workshop intended to establish an international cooperation framework to support the space exploration plans of various countries. This workshop came on the heels of one held by NASA in Washington, DC at the end of April which concentrated on lunar exploration. At the ESA / ASI workshop, space agency representatives shared their updated plans and strategies for human and robotic exploration of the solar system, especially in regards to the Moon and Mars. In smaller sessions, participants explored topics such as space transportation, in-orbit infrastructure, surface infrastructure and automatic precursor missions. The goal of these international workshops is to establish a global strategy in regards to space exploration. The next workshop in the ESA / ASI series is scheduled for May 2007. [ESA 05/15/06]

** 7: IN BRIEF

ESA is expected to announce next week a call for ideas for three new science projects for the 2015-2017 time frame; one project will fall in the 500 million euro range, and two in the 300 million euro range, including a small fast-track mission. ESA is hoping to downsize Solar Orbiter, a larger mission which is currently under assessment for lack of funds, so that it will fit into the fast-track slot. [Aviation Week, 05/15/06]

It was announced May 10th that Saab Ericsson Space, of Sweden, will supply onboard guidance computers and telemetry antennas to equip 25 Ariane 5 rockets. According to the contract, valued at 10 million euros, Saab Ericsson Space will provide two guidance computers for each Ariane 5; one will serve as a back up to the other. Each Ariane 5 also carries between two and four telemetry antennas to transmit the launcher's position and altitude to ground control. [Space News 05/15/06]

The Ariane 5 ECA has been moved from the Launcher Integration Building to the Final Assembly Building at the Guiana Space Center in preparation for its scheduled May 26th launch. In the Final Assembly Building, the Ariane 5 ECA will receive its satellite payloads: the Satmex 6 and Thaicom 5 satellites. The two have a combined weight of approximately 8.5 metric tons, the heaviest payload to date for the Ariane 5.

One month after arriving at its target, Venus Express has successfully slipped into its final, elliptical orbit around the planet. The spacecraft will carry out a number of final tests between now and the beginning of June before becoming fully operational. Its instruments will be switched on one by one for thorough checking and then be tested all together or in groups. Venus Express' nominal science phase begins on June 4th, 2006. [ESA 05/09/06, Space News 05/15/06]

France In Space is a weekly synthesis of French space activities based on French press. Its content does not reflect an official position of the French Government or CNES. It is provided by the CNES office and the Office of Science and Technology of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. Editors: Jean-Jacques Tortora, Noëlle Miliard and Timothée Verwaerde

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About CNES

"CNES develops and leads national space programmes. The main thrust of its action is to serve France's ambition to sustain a strong space capability and contribute to scientific discovery at the highest levels. CNES is committed to fostering innovative space technologies that meet the current and future needs of society. Most programmes are pursued in cooperation with international partners. CNES also plays a central role in programmes initiated by ESA, the European Space Agency, to which it is a major contributor. It is thus a driving force behind ESA programmes and activities".

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