Status Report

France in Space #260

By SpaceRef Editor
March 31, 2004
Filed under , ,


For the first time, the ‘videometer’ (VDM), a new technology device to
ensure very precise automatic rendezvous operations between the 20.7 tonnes
Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and the International Space
Station (ISS), has been successfully tested this month. Based on the design
of a star tracker, the Jules Verne videometer, which is the first automatic
optical operational system ever used for spacecraft navigation, has been
through extensive simulated rendezvous tests. This state of the art
rendezvous technology is the crucial part of the new European cargo
spaceship to which it gives its specific name of Automated Transfer Vehicle
(ATV). For the final rendezvous manoeuvres, the ATV will use its videometer
eye-like sensors, combined with additional parallel measurement systems,
which allow an automatic docking with an incredible centimetre precision
while the spacecraft and the ISS are circling the Earth at 28 000 km/h.
Testing. To realistically check the videometer capabilities – in targeting
and acquisition – the tests were conducted in a hi-tech ship hull research
facility at the French procurement agency ‘DÈlÈgation GÈnÈrale pour
l’Armement’ (DGA), located in Val-de-Reuil, 100 km west of Paris. A contract
between ESA and DGA will allow further ATV rendezvous testing, including
during the Jules Verne flight, if needed. Inside an exceptional building,
600 metres in length, a 120 000 kg mobile platform, able to ride on 550
metre long rails, enabled the simulation of a continuous approach between
the two space vehicles from a range of several hundred metres to within
almost docking distance. The results of the test campaign showed that the
whole videometer system – that is to say the laser illuminator and the image
analyser of the reflected laser beams – was able to continuously track the
simulated ISS platform from a distance of 313 metres, right up close to
docking. The first European cargo vehicle ATV is scheduled to be launched to
the ISS on top of an Ariane 5 launcher in mid-2005. [ESA 03/26/2004]


The qualification flight of the higher lift version of Ariane 5, the ECA, is
scheduled for mid-2004. It will incorporate thermal and mechanical
improvements to the Vulcain 2 nozzle, proposed by Snecma Moteurs. The
program to return Ariane 5 ECA to service reflects an all-out effort by the
entire Ariane community. The reasons for the failure of the first Ariane 5
ECA in December 2002 (France In Space #222 Article 1) have now been
identified and understood. A combination of mechanical and thermal phenomena
led to the destruction of the nozzle about 180 seconds after lift-off,
resulting in loss of launcher control. To increase mechanical strength, a
nickel-based alloy jacket will be welded outside the upper part of the
nozzle. It will also have axial stiffeners to resist bending moments. The
lower part of the nozzle will be reinforced by annular stiffeners. Test
results were in line with predictions. From a thermal standpoint, the liquid
hydrogen flow rate in the cooling circuits was increased from 1.9 to 3
kg/sec. Volvo Aero has also introduced a new welding process to further
strengthen these lines. A thermal barrier was added inside the nozzle, using
plasma deposition to apply an yttrium zirconate coating several dozen
centimetres up to the nozzle. This barrier keeps the temperature under the
threshold that would change the alloy’s internal structure. Qualification
tests have started in early 2004 in both Germany and France. The nozzles
will have to show that they stand up under conditions far more extreme, and
for longer times than experienced in actual flight. [Snecma Magazine


Astronomers have known for years that Mars possessed polar ice caps, but
early attempts at chemical analysis suggested only that the northern cap
could be composed of water ice, and the southern cap was thought to be
carbon dioxide ice. Mars Express made observations with its OMEGA instrument
(France In Space #255 Article 1) to measure the amounts of sunlight and heat
reflected from the Martian polar region. When planetary scientists analysed
the data, it clearly demonstrated that, as well as carbon dioxide ice, water
ice was present too. The results showed that hundreds of square kilometres
of permafrost’ surround the South Pole. Permafrost is water ice, mixed into
the soil of Mars, and frozen to the hardness of solid rock by the low
Martian temperatures. This is why water ice has been hidden from detection
until now – because the soil with which it is mixed cannot reflect light
easily and so it appears dark. Using this data, planetary scientists now
know that the south polar region of Mars can be split into three separate
parts. Part one is the bright polar cap itself, a mixture of 85% highly
reflective carbon dioxide ice and 15% water ice. The second part comprises
steep slopes known as scarps’, made almost entirely of water ice, that fall
away from the polar cap to the surrounding plains. The third part was
unexpected and encompasses the vast permafrost fields that stretch for tens
of kilometres away from the scarps. Mars Express and OMEGA will now continue
looking for water ice and minerals across the surface of the planet. In May,
another Mars Express instrument, the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and
Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS), will begin collecting data, looking for water
underneath the surface. MARSIS is a radar device on the Mars Express
satellite that can look through the top five kilometers of Martian crust to
search for layers of water and ice. [Nature 03/18/2004,
03/22/2004, CNES 03/24/2004]


The French Space Agency (CNES) is preparing to launch a new generation of
microsatellites, Myriade, developed to offer to scientists a consequently
cheaper access to space. The first microsat, Demeter, will be launched on
June 29th from Baikonur a top of a converted SS-18 intercontinental
ballistic missile. It will study electromagnetic perturbations created by
earthquakes. In October 2004, Parasol (France in Space #259 Article 1)
should be launched with an Ariane 5 as a piggyback to the military
observation satellite Helios 2. With Myriade, CNES is offering faster and
cheaper access to space. The Myriade bus is small (a dice of 60 cm length)
and weighs very little (120 kg). These are 2 requirements to be accepted as
piggyback payload onboard big launchers. Although their size does not
qualify the bus for telecommunications, Alcatel Space and EADS Astrium, both
partners on this brand new microsatellite bus, are already looking into
exporting opportunities. [AFP 03/15/2004]


The European Space Agency’s Integral orbiting observatory has traced a
mysterious glow at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy to at least 91
heavenly bodies. The unprecedented sensitivity and precision of Integral’s
telescope IBIS made possible the detection of individual objects buried
inside clouds of gas and dust that for the past 30 years have appeared
through all other instruments as a puzzling fog. Scientists conducting
high-flying balloon-borne experiments discovered the blur of so-called
“soft” gamma rays, a form of radiation with energies similar to those
emitted in medical X-rays, in the mid-1970s. The French Nuclear Agency (CEA)
and an international team of astronomers describe 90% of the gamma rays are
coming from 91 clearly defined objects, possibly black holes or the remains
of exploded stars energized by celestial swirling dervishes called pulsars,
and a host of other less well-defined space entities. The remaining 10%
could be caused by compact celestial bodies with very low emission, that
cannot be individually detected or with very tenuous inter stellar emission.
INTEGRAL is the first gamma ray camera using semiconductor sensors. This
camera was developed by the CEA (French Nuclear Agency) in Saclay, France
with the support of CNES. INTEGRAL was launched in October 2002 on a Russian
Proton rocket. It will now make a complete census of buried black holes in
the Milky Way. [UPI, AFP 03/17/2004]


An agreement has been reached between the European Union and the State of
Israel on its participation to the GALILEO programme. During the visit of
FranÁois Lamoureux, Director-General of Energy and Transport at the European
Commission, cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has led
to concrete results with the creation of a joint Israeli-Palestinian office
of energy. This agreement provides for co-operative activities on satellite
navigation and timing in a wide range of sectors, notably science and
technology, industrial manufacturing, service and market development, as
well as standardisation, frequencies and certification. It also paves the
way for Israel to financially take part in the programme through a stake
holding in the GALILEO Joint Undertaking, the body managing the programme.
Israel is one of the eight countries within the world space community
demonstrating significant technological background on space programmes and
achievements on GNSS applications, equipment, user segment and regional
technology. The State of Israel expressed its interest in June 2003 in
participating to the GALILEO programme and therefore its willingness to
support European position on standardization and frequencies allocation
aimed at promoting the market for Galileo services. [European Commission

** 7: IN BRIEF

Early this month, Calipso observation satellite’s payload was mated to the
platform at Alcatel Space’s integration rooms in Cannes, southern France.
Based on a platform from the Proteus family (designed for mini-satellites in
low orbit), Calipso is dedicated to global observation of clouds and
aerosols. Calipso is a joint project between French agency CNES and American
counterpart NASA. For the Calipso mission, the Proteus platform will feature
the first satellite-borne lidar, or laser radar. [Alcatel Space 03/15/2004]
On Friday, 12 March 2004, the Sun ejected a spectacular ‘eruptive
prominence’ into the heliosphere. SOHO, the ESA/NASA solar watchdog
observatory, faithfully recorded the event. At the time of this snapshot,
the eruptive prominence seen at top right was over 700 000 kilometres
across – over fifty times Earth’s diameter – and was moving at a speed of
over 75 000 kilometres per hour. [ESA 03/16/2004]
In the course of its meeting in Kiruna (Sweden) on 24 and 25 March, the
European Space Agency Council approved the accession of Greece and
Luxembourg to the ESA Convention. The two countries are expected to become
full members of the Agency by 1 December 2005, after their national approval
procedures have been completed. [ESA 03/25/2004]
The W3A spacecraft, designed and built by EADS Astrium for EUTELSAT and
launched by Proton on 16 March 2004, successfully performed early operations
and is now in geostationary orbit. [EADS Astrium 3/24/2004]

[From AFP, CNES, EADS Astrium, ESA, European Commission, Nature, Reuters,,, UPI]

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: Vincent Sabathier, Thibaut Girard, Valery Tessier-Leon

France In Space is available online at
you will find there the current issue, the subscription and un-subscription
forms, as well as the archives with a search engine.

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

List-france-in-space mailing list

SpaceRef staff editor.