CSO-3, IRIS: the future French spy satellites on the ground

CSO-3, or the cursed spy satellite that has been on the ground for several months instead of sending images from an orbit 800km away. It should be launched first in 2021 with Ariane 62, then in late 2022 with the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle and finally in 2023 with Ariane 62. Basically. LThe first delay in CSO-3 launch 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 in late 2021 due to the Ariane 6 delay. Unfortunately, the Air Force had to deal with the end of February 2022, when Russia decided to shut down Soyuz operations at Kourou in retaliation for the Western sanctions imposed on them after the invasion of Ukraine.

Finally, thatThe new delay in Ariane 6’s first flight puts a strain on the deployment of crucial capabilities (optical observation) of the Aerospace Forces when they are needed to brief French political authorities on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. This conflict has also revealed the weaknesses in the autonomy of the European space industry. The spy satellite CSO-3 remains dependent on the commercial commissioning of Ariane 6, whose maiden flight is planned for 2023 (initially July 2020). The European Space Agency (ESA) is scheduled to announce the date of the first flight this fall. It could take place in the last quarter of 2023 as some rumors 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 locked in a clean room for some time, but the delay in CSO-3’s commissioning could delay the IRIS program. This new constellation is intended to replace that of CSO, whose satellites have a ten-year contract term. CSO-1 was launched in December 2018 and CSO-2 in December 2020. General Frédéric Parisot, Major General of the Aerospace Forces, also made the announcement before the National Assembly at the end of July “The launch of the CSO-3 satellite has been delayed by a year. As a result, the launch of its successor, IRIS, will probably be postponed by a year.”. Even more so if CSO-3 does not take off until 2024 with Ariane 6. Does the Bundeswehr Ministry take the risk of letting it on board a foreign launch vehicle?

Originally scheduled for 2028, the IRIS program that started in 2019 is now scheduled for 2030. A program that will be operational in 2019 and now in 2030. “We suffer from it or maybe we take advantage of it to spread our expenses and our capacities”, explained the number two in aerospace. Under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of the Armed Forces, Airbus Space and Thales Alenia Space (TAS) have set up a joint industry team for space observation for the IRIS program with the Directorate General for Defense (DGA), which will succeed CSO. Not without damage.

In the new industrial plan, a first satellite (EHRmin), mainly developed and manufactured by Airbus, should first enter service in 2028, then a second (EHRmax), developed by TAS, will arrive later, in 2032. Airbus will rely on silica technology (silicon carbide mirrors), while TAS will develop a more classic satellite in Cannes, with optics that France has had since Helios. The first satellite should offer slightly better performance than CSO, but the second should be much more efficient, especially for identification and strategic reconnaissance missions. According to our information, the CNES reported to the TAS orders for development work on critical subsystems (phase A) worth around fifty million euros. Phase B is expected in 2023.

An unplanned review

In the space domain is the Retries (number of times the satellite passed over a target) is a real problem. “We also saw the need to revisit – how important it is regularly, good pictures. This is also the goal of IRIS, the successor to the CSO satellites”, General Frédéric Parisot warned during his hearing. However, the Bundeswehr Ministry had not yet allocated a budget to increase the revisit capacity of the IRIS program. An estimated budget of between 200 and 300 million euros in addition.