France is looking to round out its space-based intelligence collection capability. Having already fielded the Helios-2 imaging satellites and receiving radar-satellite data through a barter agreement with Germany and Italy, signals intelligence is next on the agenda.
Several technology projects have been well underway for a space-based signals intelligence system for some time, and now Paris has published more concrete plans for an operational system.
Under the newly unveiled multi-year spending law, the French government wants to have the system become operational in 2016. Called, Ceres, the system is open to European partners. In fact, France has been eager to get support from others, including Germany, for well over a year — so far with little success.
Ceres would build on the Essaim demonstrator, which was launched in December 2004, and will remain operational until next year. Essaim already has created enough interest in France to support funding of a follow-on development activity, Elisa. Elisa actually consists of payloads carried on four micro-satellites.
That sytem would even provide a limited operational capacity once it is orbited in 2010. The mini-constellation would be in orbit for three years.