French launch missile warning sats

February 15, 2009

The French government on Thursday launched two satellites designed to serve as demonstrators for an eventual ballistic missile launch warning system.

The Spirale spacecraft also should provide France first-hand infrared data on missile plume IR signatures. Up to now, the Europeans have had to rely on U.S. data. That makes Spirale an important step not just for the French, but for Europe at large if it ever wants to become independent from U.S. for missile warning, a German military official points out.

An actual DSP/SBIRS-like constellation in Europe is still years off, and there are big questions whether the funding or cross-border interest is really there. But the French launch, on an Ariane 5 on Feb. 12, nevertheless marks and important step forward.

The spacecraft are to remain in operation until April. The IR detector is provided by Sofradir and Thales Alenia Space built the spacecraft. Astrium was charged with systems integration.

Thales says the spacecraft each are about 0.9 meter high and weeight 120 kg. “They will be positioned in an elliptical equatorial orbit to observe the earth’s atmosphere under a wide variety of conditions (mono or stereo mode, altitudes, bandwidths, local time, etc.). The telescope on the payload features advanced technologies, in particular a carbon-fiber reinforced silicon carbon (C/SiC) material known as Cesic, a ceramic matrix composite that offers the best combination of low weight and high performance.”

spirale-copyright-astrium[credit: Astrium]

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French decision on Hermes in April?

February 1, 2009

For about nine months, the French government has had an unsolicited proposal on the table from Thales to provide Hermes 450s for Afghanistan operations, not unlike what the contractor is doing for the U.K. Now, a senior Thales exec says a decision on moving forward with the deployment could come in April.

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Hermes 450 in support of UK forces (credit: MOD)

There are differences between the U.K. and French operation, if the latter gets the green light. The U.K. has about 10 Hermes 450s — they’ve amassed around 17,000 flight hours in Iraq and Afghanistan — on a lease basis. The basic French program is for three vehicles, probably purchased.

Thales officials believe France will suffer the same problems with the Sperwer UAV now in Afghanistan as other countries have had to deal with. That, they expect, will provide impetus to the Hermes 450 operation — the Hermes 450 also can stay aloft much longer.

Meanwhile, the contractor is hoping the Brit experience will help convince Paris. No Hermes 450s have been lost and the U.K. government just extended the fee-for-service deal by 18 months.

One issue in France is the budget. There is no clear funding line for urgent operational needs, although Paris is trying to improve the process to get equipment out to deployed forces.