CNES Outlines Plans for Smaller Research and Technology Budget

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TOULOUSE, FRANCE — Research and technology spending at the French space agency, CNES, will drop slightly again in 2010 but remains sufficient to maintain a CNES role in a broad range of technologies including upgrades to its small-satellite product line, advanced Earth observation sensors and new radiation-hardened components not subject to U.S. technology-export rules, CNES officials said.

CNES officials outlined their research and technology (R&T) plans here Jan. 28, saying that they want to maintain a balance between spending on promising research and early-stage development of gear designed for specific missions.

For 2010, CNES will have about 21.3 million euros ($30 million) for early-stage research and technology efforts, some 5 percent less than in 2009 and a 17 percent drop from 2008.

But the investment decline is smaller given that the figures do not include the salaries of about 80 CNES engineers working on these projects. Nor does it include the multiplier effect of co-investment by industry partners or other government agencies, said Anne Cadiou, CNES R&T director.

Outside its investment in programs managed by the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA), CNES’s 2010 budget is about 749 million euros. The agency is negotiating with the French government a new five-year spending plan to start in 2011. Marc Pircher, director of CNES’s Toulouse Space Center here, said he expects no real increase in the non-ESA budget in the next five-year plan.

Within an overall budget that likely will be flat, Pircher said, the challenge is to divide spending among dozens of promising technologies that seem good research subjects, and ground or orbital demonstrations of the technologies that survive CNES review after the R&T phase.

Pircher declined to say whether a French government economic-stimulus package — which includes funds to work on a carbon dioxide-monitoring satellite, a Ka-band consumer-broadband spacecraft and initial work on a rocket to succeed today’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 vehicle — will include investment in research and technology.

CNES likely will have a role in managing the stimulus funds, but it remains unclear what that role will be, Pircher said.

CNES officials acknowledged that they have the same problems with technology-caused program cost overruns and delays as other space agencies. Philippe Goudy, director of orbital projects at CNES, said the Pleiades high-resolution optical Earth observation satellites and the Microscope spacecraft to test Einstein’s equivalence principle both carry technologies that proved more difficult than foreseen.

Alberto Tobias, head of systems, software and technology at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, Netherlands, said the agency has determined that around 30 percent of program cost overruns can be attributed to the use of technologies that were inserted into missions before they had been thoroughly demonstrated. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has come to similar conclusions about U.S. Defense Department satellite programs.

Goudy said that while the problem can be minimized, it likely will never disappear because of the difficulties inherent in designing and testing technologies in advance of knowing the exact use to which they will be put.

Two of the more prominent examples of past research that has been transformed into successful orbital systems are the CNES-developed Myriademicrosatellite and Proteus small-satellite platforms. These platforms have been used by French prime contractors Astrium Satellites and ThalesAlenia Space, respectively, for numerous scientific and Earth observation satellites.

CNES is now working on technologies that would be flexible enough to be integrated into future Myriade and Proteus satellites.

Paola Van Troostenberghe, head of the platform technology division, said one focus of the work on next-generation Myriade and Proteus components is how to extend the platforms’ service lives without adding too much weight. Myriade especially was designed to support short-duration science and technology missions but is now attracting interest for broader purposes.

Also necessary for the next-generation design is how to “passivate” the satellite once it reaches the end of its life. Some Myriade spacecraft carry no on-board fuel, meaning they cannot be sent into graveyard orbits to ensure they will burn up on atmospheric re-entry anytime soon.

CNES has set a policy of following guidelines established by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee, of which CNES is a founding member, that low-orbiting satellites should be retired in such a way that they will enter the atmosphere within 25 years of being taken out of service.

For the next generation of small satellites, Van Troostenberghe said, the platforms must be rendered inert — meaning discharging batteries, pyrotechnical devices and any other elements of stored energy — to ensure they do not break apart in the post-retirement years before they are burned up on atmospheric re-entry.