Status Report

France In Space #371

By SpaceRef Editor
February 28, 2007
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The BepiColombo mission to Mercury was officially adopted by ESA’s Science Program Committee on February 23rd, and is now poised to begin its industrial implementation phase. BepiColombo, the newest of Europe’s planetary exploration missions, will consist of two satellites, and is to be carried out in collaboration with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The spacecraft’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), designed for planetary survey and analysis, and the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), conceived to supply electrical and chemical propulsion, will both be built under ESA responsibility. The spacecraft’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) for magnetospheric studies will be built by JAXA. The MPO will carry eleven scientific instruments funded primarily by ESA Member States, while the MMO will carry five scientific experiments funded primarily by Japan. Astrium GmbH of Germany will act as prime contractor for the implementation phase (a contract worth 330 million euros) and will ensure the mission design, as well as the development and integration of the “cruise-composite” spacecraft. EADS Astrium in France will also play an important role in the spacecraft’s development as it will supply the on-board software, similar to that used in the Rosetta, Mars Express and Venus Express missions. Currently scheduled for launch in August of 2013 via Soyuz Fregat from Kourou, French Guiana, BepiColombo would reach Mercury in 2019. [ESA 02/26/07, Agence France Presse 02/26/07]


Yannick d’Escatha, President of CNES, Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General, Jean-Yves Le Gall, Director General of Arianespace and Anatoly Perminov, Head of Roscosmos were all present at the Guiana Space Center on February 26th for the official groundbreaking ceremony at the new Soyuz launch pad. Numerous other European and Russian authorities were also on hand for the ceremony, during which a commemorative plaque and a stone from the Baikonur launch site, from which Yuri Gagarin took off in 1961, were laid at the site. Soyuz is one of the industry’s most reliable vehicles and has been launched a total of 1718 times, placing 1661 satellites in orbit and sending 91 Russian and 40 non-Russian cosmonauts into space. Launching Soyuz from the Guiana Space Center will be a strategic maneuver as the launcher’s lift capability will be dramatically increased thanks to Guiana’s equatorial position. The project to bring Soyuz to Guiana is co-funded by ESA, the European Union and Arianespace, and is carried out by CNES as system prime contractor. Excavation work at the site began several months ago and Russian teams will be arriving shortly to begin building the launch and functional support infrastructure. According to Dordain, “we are entering a new era for launchers for Europe, which is the positive outcome of good cooperation between ESA and Russia, initiated by France, and which will enhance the launch flexibility offered by Arianespace.” [CNES 02/27/07, Arianespace 02/26/07, Le Monde 02/27/07]


SES Global has decided to switch the launch of its AMC-21 telecommunications satellite from Land Launch, a division of Sea Launch, to Arianespace. The change comes in response to concerns raised after Sea Launch’s January 30th failure, in addition to the company’s ongoing supply-chain disruptions. A mid-2008 launch would be difficult to guarantee given these concerns. Arianespace, which announced the signature of the contract at this year’s Satellite 2007 expo in Washington, DC (February 19th – 22nd) has committed to a launch sometime in the second trimester of 2008 via Ariane 5 ECA. This is Arianespace’s second launch contract signed since the beginning of 2007 (the first being ProtoStar I for ProtoStar Ltd.). The AMC-21 satellite is currently under construction by Alcatel Alenia Space and Orbital Sciences Corp. It will carry 24 Ku-band transponders and will offer television distribution services across the United States, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. [Arianespace 02/21/07, Agence France Presse 02/21/07, Space News 02/26/07]


This past Sunday, February 25th, ESA’s Rosetta probe successfully completed its swing-by of the planet Mars and is now on its way to its final destination, the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. At its closest approach, Rosetta was just 250 km above the Red Planet and was able to obtain detailed images of the planet’s surface thanks in part to the CIVA panoramic cameras, developed in France with CNES funding by the Space Astrophysics Institute in Orsay and the Astrophysics Laboratory of Marseille. The swing-by allowed the probe to decelerate and modify its trajectory. This is the second in a series of four “gravity assisted maneuvers” that will help Rosetta reach its final destination. Launched on March 2nd 2004, by an Ariane 5, Rosetta is the first-ever probe designed to orbit around the core of a comet and then deploy a lander onto the comet’s surface. Rosetta is scheduled to arrive at Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. [ESA 02/25/07, CNES 02/25/07, Reuters 02/25/07]


On February 22nd, Snecma (SAFRAN Group) inaugurated a new plasma propulsion unit at its plant in Vernon, France. The region of Normandy is providing 1 million euros in financial support, and Snecma invested 6 million euros, for the development of the unit. Now, all of Snecma’s Space Engines operations, which used to be divided between Vernon and Villaroche, can be found under one roof. The Vernon site has been revamped and a 400-square-meter building has been completely renovated and already houses the first of three large vacuum chambers which will be used to test plasma thrusters. The installation of the unit is an important chapter in the development of plasma propulsion which can be used for both communications satellites and space probes and powers the Ariane 5 launcher. [Snecma 02/22/07, Agence France Presse 02/22/07]

** 6: IN BRIEF

Eutelsat Communications of Paris has teamed with ViaSat Inc. of Carlsbad, California, to offer consumer broadband satellite service to small European markets; the service will begin in June in Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. It is expected that the number of homes connected to broadband services will nearly double, increasing from 30% to 58%, between 2006 and 2010. The new service is based on ViaSat’s SurfBeam system. The open-standards network enables commercially viable two-way satellite broadband service to be provided in rural areas. [Space News 02/26/07]

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.