CANNES, France — The French Defense Ministry on March 6 said Astrium will maintain and upgrade the ground-based user segment for the Helios 2 military reconnaissance satellite and its successor system under a 6-year contract valued at 204 million euros ($267 million).

Under the contract, Astrium will maintain and upgrade Helios 2 ground hardware located in the six nations that have access to Helios 2: Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain, in addition to France.

The contract, which is effective immediately and runs to 2018, covers the period during which Helios 2B will be succeeded by two smaller spacecraft equipped with high-resolution optical imagers.

Astrium Satellites is prime contractor for the two Helios 2 successor satellites, known as the Optical Space Component (CSO), with Thales Alenia Space contributing the optical sensor. The CSO construction contract, signed in December 2010, is valued at 795 million euros. The contract includes an option for a third satellite to be built if France finds financial support from other European nations.

Helios 2B was launched in December 2009.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet announced the Helios 2 user-segment contract March 6 in Toulouse following a visit to the Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space production plants. Astrium signed the contract with the French arms procurement agency, DGA.

In remarks prepared for delivery after his visit, Longuet said the Defense Ministry will begin a definition phase for an operational eavesdropping satellite, called Ceres, tentatively scheduled for launch in 2020.

Longuet also said France had begun studies of a military satellite telecommunications network to replace France’s Syracuse 3 system now in operation. France and Britain are studying whether to work jointly on the next-generation system.

On a parallel track, France and Italy have joined forces to build a Sicral 2 telecommunications satellite, which features separate French and Italian military payloads on a single satellite platform. Sicral 2 is scheduled for launch in 2013.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.