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France: ArianeGroup, Eutelsat, Magellium space consortium

April 25, 2023

By Chris Forrester

A consortium led by ArianeGroup, in association with Eutelsat and Magellium, has been awarded a contract by French space agency CNES (Centre national d’études spatiales) under the France 2030 investment plan, to improve space surveillance performance in all orbits.

The project says it combines the expertise of ArianeGroup, which provides high value-added space surveillance services through its network of ground-based telescopes, Eutelsat for in-orbit and space segment services, and Magellium for image processing.

The consortium will provide CNES with a Space Situational Awareness (SSA) data service through the deployment of multi-orbital optical sensors, and the development and implementation of an optical space segment in geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), to complement and enhance the performances of the existing ground-based network operated by ArianeGroup.

ArianeGroup is the prime contractor on this project and will supply the surveillance services provided by its ground-based network of telescopes, supplemented by data from the spaceborne sensor that will be developed during the project and then interconnected to ArianeGroup’s system.

“This contract recognises the quality and efficiency of the space surveillance services already provided by ArianeGroup to its government, institutional and private customers. It is also a vote of confidence in our ability to bring together the very best expertise, provided by partners with complementary skills. Developing sovereign space surveillance capabilities is a strategic priority for France and Europe. We are proud to contribute together to improving security in space, for the benefit of European citizens,” said Philippe Clar, Defense Programmes Director at ArianeGroup.

This project will build on ArianeGroup’s ongoing activities through its telescope surveillance network comprising 15 stations worldwide, which today provides services to government, institutional, and private customers. ArianeGroup provides high-precision daytime and nighttime positioning and orbitography data, and analyses space objects in various orbits. The service is fully geared to the surveillance, tracking and collision warning needs of civil and military satellite operators, allowing them to protect their satellites against all forms of risk.

Eutelsat, as a co-contractor, will design, procure and operate the first satellite in this space segment and supply the necessary data. To achieve this, Eutelsat has teamed up with Sodern, which has a proven track record in the development and manufacture of cameras for SSA applications, to design and build the on-board space sensor.

“Exo-atmospheric space is a new challenge for Europe’s sovereignty and the protection of its space infrastructure. Eutelsat intends to play its part in the global effort to monitor space and understand its environment by leveraging its multi-orbit, multi-mission infrastructure while joining forces with a leading player in space surveillance,” explained Serge Cholley, Director/Security and Defence at Eutelsat.

As a French telecommunications satellite operator for the past 45 years, Eutelsat has built up extensive expertise in the space environment by protecting its fleet from orbital risks. It is this know-how that the company is seeking to make available to French and European stakeholders to protect human lives and assets. Eutelsat says its ambition is twofold: To become the leading space surveillance operator capable of protecting commercial space operations and to be a trusted partner in France’s defence space strategy.

Magellium, also a co-contractor on the project, will develop the image processing for use on different types of optical payloads. Magellium was founded in 2003, based on independent and sovereign expertise in space image processing and its downstream applications. This expertise has been serving space surveillance since 2015, with the development of the space object detection and tracking function of the Tarot satellites for CNES, followed by a noteworthy participation in the EU SST project on the same function, adapted to onboard processing and completed by a versatile and high-fidelity simulator of space observation scenes from both the ground and space. On this project, Magellium will be implementing its onboard solutions, resulting from its most recent R&D.

The project will commence with a 24-month pre-operational phase, followed by an 18-month operational service demonstration phase, as decided by CNES. This contract is financed by the French Government under the ‘France 2030’ investment plan.

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