Brussels, 20 Dec 2004
Arianespace has successfully launched the Helios IIA observation satellite for the French, Belgian and Spanish ministries of defence, together with six microsatellites for different scientific purposes.
This launch is the 17th commercial mission of the Ariane 5 'Generic' launcher, and is considered to be key to the development of a common European defence and security policy, which must include space capability.
'This launch constitutes an example of the positive cooperation between the civilian sector (Ministry of Research) and the military. It goes beyond the French border by inscribing itself within Europe,' said French Minister for Research, François d'Aubert.
The Helios IIA military satellite, launched from the European Space Agency's launchpad in Kourou, French Guiana, is to gather both optical and infrared intelligence to be shared among France, Belgium and Spain during its five-year space life. It will rotate in sun-synchronous orbit about 700 km above the Earth.
'The success of the Helios IIA launch is a great step forward for our space policy,' said French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie. 'Mastering space is an imperative for tomorrow,' she claimed, calling for greater space cooperation in Europe.
The French military will 'benefit from additional capabilities, more precise images and faster reaction speed,' she added.
The satellite is to monitor possible weapons proliferation, prepare and evaluate military operations and digitally map terrain for cruise missile guidance, explained the French Defence Ministry.
Helios IIA, weighing 4.6 tonnes, is said to be able to spot objects as small as a textbook anywhere on Earth. Equipped with infrared sensors, it is expected, for the first time, to allow France's military to gather information at night from space.
Accompanying Helios are six small satellites: four French Essaim micro-satellite demonstrators; the CNES Parasol to study the Earth's climate; and the Spanish Nanosat, a civilian micro-satellite technology demonstrator.
The Essaims are designed for testing new technologies in electromagnetic surveillance, while Parasol is used to study cloud formations and aerosols in the upper atmosphere, as well as their effect on global warming and greenhouse gases. Nanosat is also designed to monitor atmospheric changes.