French launch missile warning sats

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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