Status Report

France in Space #364: COROT Telescope Takes Off for the Stars

By SpaceRef Editor
January 5, 2007
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CNES, along with its European and international partners, and especially the Paris Observatory, Arianespace/Starsem and prime contractor Alcatel Alenia Space, celebrated the successful launch of the COROT space telescope on December 27th, 2006. The French-led COROT mission (COnvection, ROtation of stars and Transits of extrasolar planets) is the first of its kind, being the first spacecraft dedicated to the search for Earth-like exoplanets, while at the same time carrying out a very high precision, stellar photometry mission which will allow scientists and astronomers to take a glimpse inside stars. The spacecraft is currently being positioned by the CNES control center in Toulouse, France; once COROT reaches its 900 km polar orbit, it will have a line of sight in the same direction for 150 days at a time, allowing for uninterrupted observation of as many as 120,000 stars during its 2.5-year lifespan. Mission planners are expecting to observe at least 40 rocky bodies and hundreds, if not thousands, of gaseous ones. The spacecraft should be fully operational by the beginning of February and will be sending its first images back shortly. COROT is paving the way for future extra-solar missions, especially ESA’s Darwin mission, designed to analyze extrasolar planetary atmospheres for signs of life and expected to launch sometime after 2020. [CNES 12/27/06, Space News 0101/07, Le Monde 12/27/06, 20 Minutes Toulouse 01/03/07]

For more information please see the November 8th edition of France In Space (#359).


The launch of the COROT mission on December 27th proved to be an occasion to celebrate two world firsts as it marked the inaugural launch of the new Soyuz-Fregat 2-1b launcher from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launched under the responsibility of Arianespace / Starsem, this new version features a more powerful third-stage engine, as well as a digital control system. The Soyuz-Fregat 2-1b is to be an integral part of the project to operate Soyuz launchers from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou. Starsem is responsible for the international marketing of the Soyuz launch vehicle, in addition to its operation. Starsem’s shareholders include Arianespace, EADS, Roscosmos and the Samara Space Center (TsSKB-Progress). [Arianespace 12/27/06, Les Echos 12/27/06]


ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) space tug, baptized “Jules Verne”, recently completed an 18-day environmental test campaign during which it was subject to extreme heat and cold. The ATV is now only one step away from its qualification. In the final series of tests, set to take place in March 2007, the compatibility of the ATV’s flight software with its overall design will be verified. If all goes as planned, the ATV should be shipped to the Guiana Space Center in Kourou this spring for a scheduled launch in the third quarter of 2007. [Aviation Week 01/01/07]


In what is a world first, the French Arms Procurement Agency, DGA, in collaboration with prime contractor Astrium Satellites, successfully completed a first series of tests establishing optical laser links between an aircraft and a satellite in geostationary orbit. The tests, carried out as part of the LOLA project (Airborne Laser Optical Link), established six links between a LOLA terminal mounted on a Dassault Mystère 20 business jet and the ESA-owned Artemis satellite. The goal of the first trial was to verify the pointing ability of the terminal mounted in the jet. Now that this has been accomplished, the next step will be to transmit telecommunications data from the terminal to Artemis; these test flights are set to take place between now and May 2007. During the first test runs, the Mystère was flown at 300 km/h at altitudes ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 meters; one link was also established while the plane was on the ground. One challenge still to overcome is how to minimize the signal’s degradation as it passes through the atmosphere. The LOLA project was conceived to demonstrate whether laser communications with geostationary satellites should be integrated into future unmanned aerial vehicles. The initial LOLA contract for 47 million euros was awarded to Astrium in December 2003. [Space News 12/18/06, Le Figaro 12/14/06]


Eutelsat Communications and Alcatel Alenia Space announced the signature of a contract December 21st, 2006, under which the later will manufacture and deliver Eutelsat’s new W7 communications satellite. The financial details of the contract were not disclosed. Set to launch in the second quarter of 2007, the W7 satellite will double the current capacity of Eutelsat’s fleet of geostationary satellites in the specific location. W7 carries 70 Ku-band transponders that can be connected to six beams serving Europe, Russia, Africa, the Middle East and central Asia. The spacecraft will replace all capacity on the operator’s SESAT 1 satellite (which currently serves Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and central Asia) and will bring fresh capacity to South Africa through a high-powered fixed beam, and also to central Asia through a spotbeam which can be oriented in orbit. The W7 satellite will weigh approximately 5.6 tons and is based on the Alcatel Alenia Space Spacebus 4000 platform. [Eutelsat Communications 12/21/06, Agence France Presse 12/21/06]

** 6: IN BRIEF

ESA welcomed home its two European astronauts, Thomas Reiter and Christer Fuglesang, on December 22nd when the Space Shuttle Discovery landed in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Discovery’s return marked not only the end to the STS-116 mission but the successful completion of two of ESA’s manned missions: Astrolab (completed by Thomas Reiter) and Celsius (carried out by Christer Fuglesang). [ESA 12/22/06]

The European Union has finalized an agreement allowing Morocco to become a partner in the Galileo satellite navigation system. Morocco is the first African nation to join the Galileo project but the fifth non-European country to sign on after China, Israel, Ukraine and India. Discussions are also under way with Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Norway, Chile, South Korea, Malaysia, Canada and Australia. [Aviation Week 12/18-25/06]

Arianespace has rescheduled the launch of Skynet 5A, Britain’s first military communications satellite. Originally planned for mid-January, the launch has now been pushed back to the end of February, 2007. No reason has yet been given. Skynet 5A, built by EADS Astrium, will be launched along with the INSAT 4B telecommunications satellite for the Indian Space Research Organization. [Aviation Week 01/01/07, Arianespace 01/02/07]


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

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

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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”.

SpaceRef staff editor.