PARIS — The French government on March 23 announced four launch vehicle and satellite projects that will receive a combined 500 million euros ($710 million) in state aid as part of a government bond issue designed to spur innovation.

The four projects are a next-generation rocket to succeed today’s Ariane 5 and Europeanized Soyuz vehicles; an ocean-altimetry satellite mission to be conducted with the United States; an upgraded multimission microsatellite platform for satellites weighing around 200 kilograms at launch; and investment in new telecommunications satellite technologies to keep French industry competitive on the world marketplace.

“Few nations have mastered as many areas of space technology as France,” French Research Minister Valerie Pecresse said in announcing the grants. “Investment in space is an investment in the future, in the many spinoffs of space activity and in tomorrow’s jobs.”

The French General Investment Commission spent months sifting through project proposals and still has not completed its review of up to 250 million euros in investment in projects related to the digital economy. One of these proposals is to invest in research on a next-generation broadband satellite system, including a ground network.

The French space agency, CNES, has helped the commission decide among the project candidates. CNES President Yannick d’Escatha said the satellite broadband project would attempt to create “the full ecosystem” for a broadband satellite. Notably, he said, it would attempt to succeed today’s Tooway service offered by satellite fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris — which uses the European-built Ka-Sat satellite and a ground network provided by ViaSat of Carlsbad, Calif. — with an all-European system.

The four projects receiving firm aid commitments March 23 are:

  • Early work on a new-generation launch vehicle to succeed Europe’s current Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket and the Europeanized version of Russia’s medium-lift Soyuz vehicle, whose flights from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport are scheduled to begin this summer. Astrium Space Transportation and Safran’s Snecma rocket-motor division will lead the work.

Alain Charmeau, president of Astrium Space Transportation, said the vehicle will have a cryogenic upper stage based on the Vinci engine being developed for an Ariane 5 upgrade, and a solid- or liquid-fueled main stage. It would be capable of placing satellites weighing between 2,000 and 8,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit, with solid- or liquid-fueled strap-on boosters added for the heavier payloads.

The bond issue, called “Investments for the Future,” features an immediate grant of 82.5 million euros for the new rocket, with another 167 million euros to come in a second tranche.

  • The Franco-American Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite, tentatively scheduled for launch in 2019, was given a grant of 170 million euros. D’Escatha said NASA, which is paying two-thirds of the project’s total cost, has estimated the entire SWOT mission will cost nearly 700 million euros, including launch and operations. He said NASA has assured France that SWOT is not one of the missions now facing review because of budget limitations.

SWOT will feature a 10-meter boom holding two radar altimeters and will follow on from the Topex-Poseidon and three Jason ocean-altimetry satellites.

  • Evolutions to the CNES-designed Myriade small-satellite platform, whose first generation has already led to 19 satellite projects, d’Escatha said. The next-generation Myriade will carry 120 kilograms of payload and generate 100 watts of power, compared to 50 kilograms of payload and 50 watts of power for the current generation.

The new Myriade product is receiving 40 million euros in grants. Its first satellite will be a Franco-German Merlin methane-monitoring satellite, to be launched in 2015.

  • A 42.5 million euro investment in technologies for future telecommunications satellites that will include co-investment by France’s two principal satellite prime contractors, Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space. The exact amount of their co-investment was not disclosed, but Rene Ricol, head of the General Investment Commission, said the state would receive a percentage of the commercial revenue generated by the new product line.

Jean-Francois Charrier, head of marketing at Astrium Satellites, said the new product line will streamline France’s satellite supply work force by standardizing products ordered by the two prime contractors. He said the goal is to increase Europe’s share of the commercial market, which is now 40 percent, to 50 percent.

The entire program of new telecommunications technologies is valued at about 300 million euros, Charrier said, adding that CNES and the European Space Agency will be making complementary investments in the project in the next two years. The goal, he said, is to increase the competitiveness of Europe’s telecommunications satellite products by 30 percent when measured by the cost of delivering a megahertz of capacity into geostationary orbit.

Joel Chenet, director of business development at Thales Alenia Space, said more than 40 small and midsize component suppliers in France and Europe would be involved in the project.



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