CSO-3, IRIS : les futurs satellites espions français cloués au sol

Les deux premiers satellites CSO devraient être remplacer à l

CSO-3, or the cursed spy satellite that has been on the ground instead of sending images from an orbit 800 km away for several months. Initially, it was going to be launched in 2021 by Ariane 62, then, at the end of 2022, by the Russian Soyuz launcher and, finally, now it is planned on Ariane 62 in 2023. In principle. LThe first delay in the launch of CSO-3 is related to the repair times of two original anomalies industry and the consequences of the Covid-19 health crisis. The Air Force was then forced to select Soyuz at the end of 2021 due to the delay of Ariane 6. Bad luck, the Air Force had to deal with the cessation of Soyuz operations at Kourou decided at the end of February 2022 by Russia in retaliation for Western sanctions that targeted him after the invasion in Ukraine.

Finally, thehe new delay in the first flight of the Ariane 6 weighs heavily on the deployment of crucial capabilities (optical observation) of the Air and Space Force when it needs them to inform the French political authorities about the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. This conflict has also exposed the vulnerabilities of the autonomy of the European space industry. The CSO-3 spy satellite is currently pending the entry into commercial service of Ariane 6, whose first flight is scheduled for 2023 (initially July 2020). The European Space Agency (ESA) should communicate this fall the date of the first flight. It could take place in the last quarter of 2023, as some rumors are beginning to point out.

CSO-3 aboard Ariane 6 in 2024?

The third French spy satellite in the Optical Space Component (CSO) constellation will not only remain confined to a clean room for some time, but the delay in commissioning CSO-3 could also delay the IRIS program. This new constellation will replace the CSO constellation, whose satellites have a contractual lifetime of ten years. CSO-1 was launched in December 2018 and then CSO-2 in December 2020. General Frédéric Parisot, Major General of the Air and Space Force, also specified at the end of July to the National Assembly that “The launch of the CSO-3 satellite has been postponed by a year. As a result, the launch of its successor IRIS will probably also be postponed by a year”. Even more so if CSO-3 does not take off until 2024 with Ariane 6. Will the Ministry of the Armed Forces risk boarding a foreign launcher?

Initially scheduled for 2028, the IRIS program, launched in 2019, is now scheduled for 2030. A program whose start-up will derive first in 2019, and today in 2030. “We suffer it, or perhaps we take advantage of it to distribute our expenses and our capacities”, explained the number two of the air and space force. Under the auspices of the Ministry of the Armed Forces, Airbus Space and Thales Alenia Space (TAS), together with the General Directorate of Armament (DGA), have built a joint industrial team in space observation for the IRIS program, which will succeed CSO. Not without damage.

In the new industrial plan, a first satellite (EHRmin), mainly developed and manufactured by Airbus, was initially to be put into service in 2028, then a second (EHRmax) developed by TAS will arrive later, in 2032. Airbus will rely on silica technology (silicon carbide mirror) while TAS will develop a more classic satellite in Cannes with optics like France has had since Helios. The first satellite should offer slightly better performance than the CSO, however the second will be much more efficient, especially for identification and strategic intelligence missions. According to our information, the CNES would have notified the TAS of critical subsystem development works contracts (phase A) for around fifty million euros. Phase B is expected in 2023.

An unbudgeted overhaul

In the domain of space, the revisits (frequency of passage of the satellite over a target) it is a real problem. “We also saw the need to review – the importance of having, regularly, good photos. This is also the goal of IRIS, the successor to the CSO satellites.”General Frédéric Parisot warned during his audience. However, the Ministry of the Armed Forces had not yet allocated a budget to increase the revisit capacity of the IRIS program. An estimated budget of between 200 and 300 million additional euros.