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Airbus, Thales Launch French Reconnaissance Space System

European aerospace firms Airbus and Thales have launched three signals intelligence satellites to bolster the French military’s surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

Known by the French acronym CERES, the system lifted off on an Arianespace Vega rocket from the country’s spaceport in French Guiana. It will reportedly be positioned at an altitude of 700 kilometers (434 miles) in low-Earth orbit.

The CERES was developed to detect and geo-locate electromagnetic signals emitted by radio communication systems and radars that surface sensors cannot reach. They are designed to allow the military to adapt more quickly and effectively to all operational scenarios.

The system features three identical satellites that carry signals intelligence (SIGINT) payloads and user and ground control segments. It provides in-depth information even in adverse weather conditions.

Airbus integrated the global system and space segments into the CERES, while Thales was responsible for full mission chain, system performance, and supplying the satellite platforms.

CERES satellites
CERES satellites. Photo: Airbus

‘Completing Intelligence Capability’

According to the developers, the CERES satellites are based on experience gained from the ESSAIM (communications intelligence) and ELISA (electronic intelligence) micro-satellite demonstrators launched more than a decade ago.

They explained that the technical and operational lessons they acquired from these systems were “key” to enabling the CERES’ high performance in electromagnetic detection and compatibility.

Thales executive vice president Philippe Duhamel expressed his belief that the newly-launched system will complete the strategic and tactical defense intelligence capabilities of the French military.

“DGA (French Armament General Directorate) trusts Thales to be in charge of the CERES end-to-end mission performance, for which we rely on our experience of more than 20 years in space-based SIGINT, our unique know-how in satellite payloads, and our wide knowledge in SIGINT and electronic warfare in all environments,” Duhamel said, as quoted by Australian Defence Magazine.

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