CNES Taps Arianespace for Small Satellite Launches

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PARIS — The French space agency, CNES, will launch at least one, and as many as three, small satellites using the agency’s Myriade small-satellite platform aboard Soyuz or Vega rockets under contracts announced July 9 with Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium.

Under the contract, CNES’s Taranis satellite, designed to study what are known as “transient luminous events,” or lightning-type bursts, will be launched in 2015 or 2016 from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. Taranis, expected to weigh 185 kilograms at launch, will operate in a 700-kilometer low Earth orbit and use its seven instruments to study energy transfers between the Earth’s atmosphere, the ionosphere and the magnetosphere.

The contract includes two options to launch the 280-kilogram CNES-built Microscope fundamental-physics satellite and the French-German Merlin satellite to observe concentrations of methane, a contributor to global warming, in the Earth’s atmosphere. Both will use Myriade as their platforms.

Myriade has been a successful multimission satellite structure that has been used on about a dozen missions — some overseen by CNES, others by industrial prime contracts that have been given access to the platform to win export orders. An upgraded Myriade is now part of the CNES research and technology program.

Following successful inaugural flights in 2011 and 2012 of the Europeanized Soyuz medium-lift and Vega small-satellite launchers from the European spaceport, Evry, France-based Arianespace is now marketing these two rockets alongside the heavy-lift Ariane 5 vehicle. Each rocket has its own launch pad.