PARIS — The French Helios 2A optical reconnaissance satellite launched Dec. 18 has produced a first series of images that confirm the health of its on-board systems, the French Defense Ministry announced.

Helios 2A is scheduled to be transferred to French defense forces in March after an in-orbit test phase.

The satellite then will be used in tandem with the Helios 1A spacecraft launched in 1995. The Helios 1B satellite, identical to Helios 1A, was taken out of service in October following the failure of its on-board batteries. It was placed into a graveyard orbit.

The Helios 1 satellites were designed to collect imagery with 1-meter resolution , which is sharp enough to distinguish ground objects or features of that size or larger.

The two Helios 2 satellites — the second is scheduled for launch in 2008 — have a resolution capability of “several 10s of centimeters” according to the French Defense Ministry.

The Helios 2 program was budgeted at 1.8 billion euros over 10 years — $2.43 billion at current exchange rates — when it was approved in 1996. The budget includes 285 million euros for the launches of the two satellites, 875 million for the satellites themselves and 330 million euros for the system’s overall design.

An additional 205 million euros, also in 1996 economic conditions , has been budgeted for a Helios 2 ground segment to be built in France and Belgium.

France paid 95 percent of the program’s cost, with Belgium and Spain dividing the remaining 5 percent.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, in a statement issued after the Helios 2A launch, said she had ordered the French arms-procurement agency, DGA, to begin studies this year on a Helios 2 follow-on and expressed hope that the future system would feature wider participation by other European nations.

Alliot-Marie said she expects to make further proposals in the coming months toward stimulating an increased military-space effort in France and Europe.

Helios 2A was the primary payload in an Ariane 5G rocket mission that also lofted four 120-kilogram Essaim signals-intelligence demonstrator satellites.

The rocket also carried the Parasol cloud- and aerosols-monitoring satellite, built by the French space agency, CNES, and the Spanish Nanosat technology-demonstration platform.

The 4,200-kilogram Helios 2A satellite was built by an industrial team led by EADS Astrium as prime contractor, with Alcatel Space responsible for providing the imaging system. It will operate in a sun-synchronous, near-polar orbit at an altitude of about 700 kilometers.

Like its predecessors, Helios 2A has a contractual service life of five years.

In addition to its main optical imager, the satellite carries an infrared imager for nighttime observations.

The Helios 2 platform is based on a nearly identical platform built by EADS Astrium for the Spot 5 civil-commercial optical observation satellite launched in May 2002.