China, France Join Forces on Astronomy Mission

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PONTE VEDRA, Florida — The French and Chinese space agencies have agreed to jointly develop a gamma-ray-burst astronomy satellite to be launched in 2021 aboard a Chinese Long March rocket, the French space agency, CNES, said Aug. 4.

The satellite, called SVOM, or Space-based multiband astronomical Variable Objects Monitor, will carry four instruments, with CNES and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) responsible for two each. Overall mission management will be led by CNSA.

The agreement, signed Aug. 2 in Beijing by CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall and CNSA Administrator Xu Dazhe, is the first concrete result of a broad space-cooperation accord signed in March following a summit in Paris of the Chinese and French heads of state. The accord referenced astrophysics and oceanography as areas of future cooperation.

“This agreement opens a decisive phase in CNES-CNSA cooperation,” Le Gall said in an Aug. 4 statement. “It paves the way to new joint projects to be conducted with China either by CNES or by the European Space Agency, to which France is the largest contributor.”