Ceres Satellites are a High Priority in French Defense Ministry’s 7-year Plan

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PARIS — The French Defense Ministry on Aug. 2 issued its seven-year military program proposal and said a three-satellite constellation flying in formation and conducting operational electronics intelligence is one of its top priorities.

The Ceres project, in which Thales Alenia Space and Astrium Satellites have agreed to cooperate, would not be operational until 2020. Its funding status is not spelled out in the document, which outlines what France will spend in general categories and not program by program. 

Ceres has been on the French government’s to-do list for about a decade.

As expected, the program puts unmanned aerial vehicles, starting with purchases from the United States and ending with a European drone effort, high on the shopping list.

France will need to replace its Syracuse military telecommunications satellite system toward the end of the decade. Industry observers were waiting for signals in the proposal for whether France would go the British route of privatizing military satcom as a way of reducing capital spending in the program’s early going.

The answer appears to be no, at least for now. The document says military satellite telecommunications remains a “sovereign” undertaking and no reference is made to outsourcing. France is in discussions with Italy and Britain about a common milsatcom effort, and has already made progress with Italy but with no one else.

France continues to argue in favor of a common ground segment for optical and radar Earth observation programs planned by defense authorities in Italy, Germany, Spain and other nations including France. This effort has failed to materialize, and France is now proceeding with its own next-generation Helios optical and infrared reconnaissance system.