Site: Centre National D'Etudes Spatiales (CNES)
18 Ave. Edouard-Berlin
31055 Toulouse Cedex

Date Visited: June 26, 1992

Report Author: N. Helm



W. Brandon
P. Hager
N. Helm


Mr. Daniel Hernandez

Director for Radio Communications,
Applications Directorate

Mr. Jean-Yves Trebaol

Head of Department, Multimission
Operations Center Network &
Operation Support Div.


CNES is the space agency of France, the French equivalent of NASA. CNES has an overall budget of approximately $2 billion compared to NASA's $15 billion. About $1 billion is given to ESA for the French share of the European space program, with the understanding that most of these funds will find their way back to France. CNES has about 2,500 employees.

Main CNES facilities consist of a headquarters in Paris, a major space center in Toulouse where this site visit took place, and a smaller space center in Evry. Toulouse is similar in appearance and atmosphere to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Evry is responsible for heavy launcher missions and supports the Guiana Space Center at Kouru where the Ariane launches take place. The Ariane launch complex, while commissioned by CNES, is operated by Arianespace and is largely owned by ESA.

Telecommunications programs included the French/German SYMPHONIE and TDF/TVSAT satellites and the Telecom series of satellites that currently are used for domestic commercial communications (Telecom 1 A/B/C and more recently Telecom 2 A/B/C).

Our hosts were from the Radiocommunications Division Directorate and Operations Directorate. There are 200 employees separated into three approximately equal groups: (1) management and research, (2) engineering and technical support and (3) operations working for the Radiocommunications activity at CNES.

One of the basic goals of the Radiocommunications Directorate is to develop new applications that can be transferred to operators. The CNES Division not only is capable of entering into commercial business activities, but is encouraged to do so. Another basic goal is to support other French agencies or ministries in their space activities. Thus the Telecom satellites are used by the French Posts, Telephone and Telegraph (PTT) for commercial services. In direct broadcasting, the TDF development program of high-powered satellites is used to supply TV programming directly to the home for a fee. CNES and its Radiocommunications Division have a number of commercial subsidiary and affiliate companies such as Satel Conseil, a consulting company that performs services for domestic or foreign customers.

The CNES launch control and orbital control facilities were part of the tour. It was explained that CNES wanted to use these facilities as efficiently as possible. Therefore when not scheduled to support CNES missions, they are actively promoted to outside customers. CNES currently has launch and/or orbital control support contracts with China, Turkey, Arabsat and Canada.


The majority of research and development activities sponsored by CNES is directed entirely to private industry. The S-80 program found below is at this stage studied by CNES with industry support.


The S-80 is a "smallsat" program to design, fabricate, launch and operate approximately five "smallsat" class, LEO communications satellites. The S-80 satellites weigh approximately 150 kgs and have an active communications transponder in the UHF band, as well as a positioning or radio determination system. A first test satellite is to be launched in August 1992. The satellites will be launched into a 900-mile orbit which is higher than many of the proposed LEO systems. With this orbit and five satellites equally positioned around the orbit, the system should provide a communications "window" of a few to perhaps 20 minutes every hour. The satellites have an active communications transponder, as compared to the store and forward communications packages that were developed and demonstrated in the U.S. on similar sized smallsats. Thus both transmit and receive locations must be within the "window" at all times. This smallsat is perhaps the first in its class to be designed for a commercial application. A number of similar sized satellites have been launched and demonstrated by U.S. companies, but the customers have been military and defense customers.

The S-80 program is similar to many CNES development programs in which an active commercial application is being explored. Our hosts talked about using the satellites for low data rate or message rate communications, especially for mobile applications. Low cost ground terminal equipment and beacon transmitters are being developed for tracking railroad cars, barges or even rental cars and trucks. Our hosts indicated that the S-80 satellites will be used to develop a STARSYS or ORBCOMM type of business application.


CNES is an active participant in the SILEX program to demonstrate intersatellite and interorbital communications links. An interesting application of GEO to GEO links was discussed by our hosts. A limited number of GEO orbital locations tend to be viewed as more desirable since satellites in these slots can interconnect a greater number of countries, for example, in the Americas, with a large number of countries in Europe and Africa. These preferred orbital locations become congested with satellite up and down links, and signal interference limits the number of satellites and thus connectivities that can be assigned. A GEO to GEO ISL can move traffic to and from the congested zone to satellites in orbital slots not as congested, which can then provide the up and down links.


The French space agency has a number of R&D activities, especially in the telecommunications area. Perhaps it was a particular orientation of our hosts, but much of the briefing and side conversation dealt with the commercialization of space programs. It was noteworthy to hear civil servants say that one of their primary goals was to develop space programs that can be directly funneled to commercial applications and new business opportunities.

This emphasis on the need for the national space program to provide the initial development for commercial networks, systems and components was noted at CNES. Certainly CNES funds science programs such as TOPEX/POSEIDON with the U.S., and programs for the public welfare, such as COSPAS/SARSAT with Russia, Canada and others. However, it seems that a large share of the development activities in Europe is not done for science or the public good, but is planned and directed to benefit the commercial growth and competitiveness of the European private sector.

Published: July 1993; WTEC Hyper-Librarian