France is planning a third Syracuse 4 satellite to be ready in orbit by 2030 for military users. Photo shows Syracuse 3A, which launched in October 2005. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

LONDON — The French Ministry of Defence will add a third satellite to its next-generation geostationary constellation, an official said Nov. 6.

Col. Laurent Jannin, the head of French satcom programs at the French arms-procurement agency, DGA, said Nov. 6 that connectivity demands from drones and military aircraft drove the need for an additional satellite that will be launched by 2030 if not sooner.

“This satellite will be different from the other ones we are currently building in order to better address the specific and increasing needs of airborne systems,” Jannin said at the 2018 Global Milsatcom conference here.

DGA has two satellites under construction by a Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space consortium for Syracuse 4 (formerly the Comsat NG program), France’s future military satcom fleet, having awarded contracts in December 2015. The first Syracuse 4 satellite is scheduled to begin operations in 2021, Jannin said, followed by the second in 2022.

Syracuse 4A and  4B are designed to carry Ka- and X-band payloads, and to resist multiple threats including cyber attacks, jamming and high-altitude nuclear events. Both have a design life of 15 years.

Jannin said many aspects of the planned third satellite are still being finalized, such as size and exact launch date, but that aviation will be a major focus.

Syracuse 4A and 4B have spot beams that concentrate satellite signals over a limited geographic area. While that’s typically fine for relatively slow-moving ground forces that don’t need satellite communications until they reach the war zone, spot beams can be a problem for fast-moving military aircraft that can traverse hundreds or thousands of kilometers in the course of a mission.  

“We need a satellite with high capacity on wide zones,” he said.

France has four military communications satellites: the two fully owned Syracuse 3A and  3B satellites, and the Sicral 2 and Athena-Fidus satellites that are shared with Italy. The satellites mainly cover Europe, the Middle East, Africa and large parts of Asia out to around Vietnam.

Jannin said the planned third satellite’s coverage will stay mainly over existing coverage areas.

France’s Joint Directorate for Infrastructure Networks and Information Systems recently added satellite capacity through Telespazio France, which announced Nov. 5 that it would supply capacity on GovSat-1, a satellite operated by Luxembourg and fleet operator SES, for French government entities by the end of 2018.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...