More than 40
years ago, France
the third nation to launch a satellite using its own rocket,
a first step toward
establishing itself as Europe’s expert in launch vehicles.
On Nov. 26, 1965, France launched the 45-kilogram Asterix 1 test satellite aboard
its Diamant rocket from the Hammaguir launch base in
Algeria. The Diamant
was based on ballistic missile technology, similar to
launch vehicles developed by the Soviet Union and the United States.
The Diamant grew out of the
Gemstones program, which began in 1959
. Run by a state-owned research and development company
Gemstones consisted of five different designs
one- and two-stage test launch vehicles, dubbed
Agate, Topaze, Emeraude, Rubis and Saphir.
In late 1960, SEREB sent the French armed forces minister a report stating that
“a craft able to place a satellite weighing 50 kilograms into Earth orbit is achievable,” according to the French space agency, CNES, Web site.
In May 1962, CNES, which had been founded only a year earlier,
signed an agreement with the military’s Ministerial Delegation for Armaments to develop an orbital launch vehicle – the Diamant.
With funding from CNES,
the Ministerial Delegation for Armaments managed development of the launcher and satellite
, while SEREB served as
contractor, the CNES Web site said.
The first version of the rocket
, Diamant-A, was essentially a repackaging
of the already-reliable two-stage Saphir rocket. Saphir had failed only twice in
attempts, according to the Encyclopedia Astronautix Web site. Using both of the Saphir’s two stages, SEREB
then replaced the
payload with a P064 third stage, which initially had been
tested on a Rubis test rocket.
The Diamant-A followed its first successful launch with three more launches, flying for the
in February 1967
The next-generation rocket,
-B, on which CNES served as
and third stages
and achieved more thrust than its predecessor, according to the EncylopediaAstronautix and RussiaSpaceWeb. The first Diamant-B launched March 10, 1970, from the newly opened Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.
Of the f
ive Diamant-B rockets
The last Diamant-B launched
in December 1971
The final Diamant rocket, the Diamant-B P4, began development in 1972. But two years later, before the latest launch
vehicle had been completed, CNES canceled the program citing funding issues.
had committed to helping develop a pan-European launch vehicle – what would become Ariane – and could not fund both programs, the CNES Web site said.
However, CNES decided to go ahead with the already
scheduled manifest, and
the Diamant-B P4
three times between February and September of 1975.
experience in developing the Diamant led to its
by the European Space Agency as the prime contractor on the Ariane 1
– Europe’s workhorse rocket. CNES based the technical design for Ariane on the Diamant, according to the CNES and NASA History Web sites.
Work on the Ariane 1 rocket, which was two-thirds funded by France, began in 1974. The Ariane 1 first launched
Dec. 24, 1979, from the Guiana Space Center.