Two additional CNES science missions—Taranis and Microscope—are slated to launch in the next few years. CNES recently signed a contract with Arianespace that would see Taranis lofted atop a Russian Soyuz or European Vega rocket in 2016 from Kourou. The 200-kg spacecraft, which is designed to study the magnetosphere-ionosphere-atmosphere coupling via transient processes, would be launched into a quasi-Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 700 km (435 mi.).
In addition to Taranis, the contract includes an option to launch two additional satellites: Microscope, which will test the validity of Galileo's Equivalence Principle in the vacuum of space; and Merlin, a €120-million ($144-million) project funded by CNES and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) that will incorporate a German lidar instrument. Both nations will collaborate on the payload ground segment and data analysis.
Slated to launch in 2016, Merlin will be the first of a second-generation microsatellite platform, dubbed Myriade Evolution, designed to boost spacecraft performance. The new bus, which is being developed with €40 million in French public bond money, is intended to double the current platform's 50-kg payload capacity and 50-watt power generation on orbit.
Following Merlin, France is planning to loft in 2018 a carbon-dioxide-monitoring satellite dubbed MicroCarb that will be based on the new Myriade Evolution platform.
France's armaments agency (DGA) is also using Myriade to experiment with formation-flying and swarming capabilities. The Astrium-built Essaim constellation, which launched with Parasol in December 2004, was designed to study the electromagnetic environment on the ground in military frequency bands with a swarm of four 120-kg spacecraft separated by a few hundred kilometers.
DGA's Spirale demo, developed by Thales Alenia Space and Astrium and launched in February 2009, comprises two satellites that collect infrared images of terrestrial backgrounds and serves as a precursor to development of a space-based operational early warning system in France.
More recently, CNES launched the Astrium-built Elisa electronic intelligence satellites for DGA in December atop a European variant of the Soyuz rocket from Kourou. The four-satellite demonstration cost €115 million to develop and launch, and is aimed at locating and identifying radar stations. The 120-kg satellites are operating in a polar, low Earth orbit at an altitude of 694 km, and could pave the way for an operational program.
Astrium, through its partnership with CNES, offers a commercial version of Myriade dubbed AstroSat100. Three missions based on the platform are currently in orbit, including Chile's SSOT Earth-observation satellite, which launched with Elisa last year; Algeria's two-satellite Alsat Earth-observation system; and a Vietnamese optical satellite, VNREDSat-1.
In July, DLR lofted its TET-1 satellite, the first in a series based on Germany's BIRD (Bispectral InfraredDetection) small-satellite platform that will support DLR's On-Orbit Verification program. Developed by Astro- und Feinwerktechnik Adlershof GmbH, the 120-kg spacecraft bus is loaded with 11 experiments operating in a Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 km, including a camera capable of detecting forest fires.
While roughly the same size as the experimental BIRD platform, TET-1 is a more capable spacecraft for operational missions, says DLR Chairman Johann-Dietrich Woerner. “We now have TET-1, but hope to have more of these,” he says. “In order to get better revisit time, we need more than one satellite to give us information as close as possible to real time.”