future english spy satellites grounded

CSO-3, or the cursed spy satellite that has been grounded instead of sending images from an orbit 800 km away for several months. Initially, it was to be launched in 2021 by Ariane 62, then, at the end of 2022, by the Russian Soyuz launcher, and, finally, it is now scheduled on Ariane 62 in 2023. In principle. LThe first delay in the launch of CSO-3 is related to the repair times of two original anomalies industry and the consequences of the Covid-19 health crisis. Then, the Air Force was forced to select Soyuz at the end of 2021 due to the delay of Ariane 6. Bad luck, the Air Force had to deal with the cessation of Soyuz operations in Kourou decided at the end of February 2022 by Russia in retaliation for the Western sanctions which targeted it after the invasion in Ukraine.

Finally, Ihe new delay in the first Ariane 6 flight weighs heavily on the commissioning of crucial capabilities (optical observation) of the Air and Space Force when it needs them to inform the French political authorities on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. This conflict has also revealed the vulnerabilities of the autonomy of the European space industry. The CSO-3 spy satellite remains today dependent on the commercial entry into service of Ariane 6, whose first flight is scheduled for 2023 (initially July 2020). The European Space Agency (ESA) should communicate this fall on the date of the first flight. It could take place in the last quarter of 2023, as some rumors are beginning to suggest.

CSO-3 on board Ariane 6 in 2024?

Not only will the third French spy satellite in the Optical Space Component (CSO) constellation remain confined in a clean room for some time, but the delay in the commissioning of CSO-3 could also delay the IRIS program. This new constellation is to replace that of CSO, whose satellites have a contractual lifetime of ten years. CSO-1 was launched in December 2018 then CSO-2 in December 2020. General Frédéric Parisot, Major General of the Air and Space Force, also specified at the end of July to the National Assembly that “the launch of the CSO-3 satellite has been postponed by a year. As a result, the launch of its successor IRIS will probably also be postponed by a year”. See more if CSO-3 does not take off until 2024 with Ariane 6. Will the Ministry of the Armed Forces take the risk of having it board a foreign launcher?

Initially scheduled for 2028, the IRIS program, launched in 2019, is now scheduled for 2030. A program whose commissioning to derive first in 2019, and today in 2030. “We suffer from it, or perhaps take advantage of it to spread our expenses and our capacities”, explained the number two of the air force and space. Under the aegis of the Ministry of the Armed Forces, Airbus Space and Thales Alenia Space (TAS) have, with the Directorate General for Armaments (DGA), built a joint industrial team in space observation for the IRIS program, which will succeed CSO. Not without harm.

In the new industrial plan, a first satellite (EHRmin), developed and manufactured mainly by Airbus, was initially to be put into service in 2028, then a second (EHRmax) developed by TAS will arrive later, in 2032. Airbus will rely on silica technology (mirror in silicon carburettor) while TAS is developing a more classic satellite in Cannes with optics like France has had since Helios. The first satellite should offer a slightly better performance than CSO, the second will however be much more efficient, especially for identification and strategic intelligence missions. According to our information, the CNES would have notified TAS of contracts for development work on critical subsystems (phase A) for around fifty million euros. Phase B is expected in 2023.

An unbudgeted revisit

In the space domain, the revisits (frequency of passage of the satellite over a target) is a real problem. “We also saw the need for revisit – the importance of having, regularly, good pictures. This is also the objective of IRIS, the successor to the CSO satellites”, warned General Frédéric Parisot during his hearing. However, the Ministry of the Armed Forces had not yet wanted a budget to increase the revisit capacity of the IRIS program, which is granted between 200 and 300 million additional euros.