Nov. 26, 1965: France Begins Launch Legacy with Diamant

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  Space News Business

Nov. 26, 1965: France Begins Launch Legacy with Diamant

By CLINTON PARKS
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 06 December 2007
02:16 pm ET





Washington



More than 40




years ago, France




became




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




, SEREB,




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




prime




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




15 launch




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




final time




in February 1967







The next-generation rocket,




the




Diamant
-B, on which CNES served as




prime contractor,




used




different first




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




launched, two




failed.




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.




France




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




successfully launched




three times between February and September of 1975.

Ultimately, CNES’




experience in developing the Diamant led to its




selection




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.