Thales Alenia Gets $384 Million CNES Contract for Athena-Fidus

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PARIS — The French space agency, CNES, on Feb. 9 signed a contract valued at 280 million euros ($384 million) with ThalesAlenia Space for the construction and launch of an EHF/Ka-band satellite for French and Italian military and civil-protection agencies, according to French government and industry officials.

The satellite, called Athena-Fidus, is being financed equally by the French and Italian governments, each of which will have its own payload on board. Athena-Fidus is a Spacebus 4000 B2 model expected to weigh slightly more than 3,000 kilograms at launch. It will be placed into geostationary-transfer orbit by Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium in late 2013 or early 2014.

The satellite will be built in Italy at ThalesAlenia’s production facility near Rome.

Arianespace will determine whether Athena-Fidus will be launched as a co-passenger aboard a heavy-lift Ariane 5 vehicle or as sole passenger aboard Russia’s medium-lift Soyuz rocket, which starting late this year will be operated from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana. At 3,000 kilograms, Athena-Fidus is already at the upper limit of what the European version of Soyuz can deliver into geostationary-transfer orbit.

The contract value of 280 million euros includes a ground control facility to be operated by France as well as the satellite’s construction and launch.

France and Italy had registered several possible orbital slots for Athena-Fidus. One official said slots that have been considered include 23.7 degrees east and 25 degrees east.

A French parliamentary report in mid-2009 said France would also finance, for some 98 million euros, development of 580 Athena-Fidus user stations. The satellite will communicate, at speeds of up to 3 gigabits per second, with fixed and mobile terminals using the DVB-RCS and DVB-S2 transmission standards. It will also be used to transmit video from unmanned aerial vehicles.

France and Italy have been negotiating details on Athena-Fidus and on a joint military telecommunications satellite called SICRAL 2 for several years.

The contract for SICRAL 2, which will carry separate French and Italian payloads, is expected to be signed by this spring.