Site: Matra Marconi Space
31, avenue des Cosmonautes
31 402 Toulouse Cedex 4 - France

Date Visited: September 11, 1997

WTEC: A.U. Mac Rae (author), J. Pelton, K. Bhasin, S. Townes



Matra Marconi Space (MMS), a joint venture company wholly owned by Legardere SCA of France and GEC of the United Kingdom, is Europe's largest spacecraft manufacturer, with about 10% of the world's market in 1996. It has facilities in both England and France, with a total workforce of 4,700. In 1996 it had $1.6 billion in revenue. It also has financial interests in several space related companies located all over the globe. In addition to spacecraft, its products include communications ground terminals and sub-systems for rocket launchers and the international space station. Its sales breakdown is 26% civilian communications satellites, 30% science and civilian earth observation, 25% military and 19% launchers, manned flights and ground systems. Its principal spacecraft locations and associated activities are as follows:

Toulouse (France)

Stevanage (UK)

Bristol (UK)

Manufacture communications, scientific and earth observation satellites

Manufacture communications satellites

Manufacture scientific and earth observation satellites

Ariane vehicle equipment bay


Space instruments

Satellite control systems

Structure, propulsion, electronics

Satellite control systems

Data management systems

Ariane Spelda


Ground systems

Ground communications systems


Recent commecial communications satellites contracted in whole or par to Matra Marconi include the following:

Afristar 1

Inmarsat 3 payload

Asiastar 1

Intelsat K-TV

Astra 2B






Hotbird 2/3/4/5


Inmarsat 3 contains an advanced mobile communications payload, consisting of flexible spot beams for voice and data for use with the small Inmarsat Mini-M laptop PC sized terminals. In addition, MMS is the prime contractor for the ESA sponsored SILEX optical ISL experimental package for the ARTEMIS experimental advanced GEO communications satellite. Recent satellites are standardized with the EUROSTAR platform, which has already accumulated 50 years of on-orbit use. It offers a 10-15 year lifetime at GEO, a launch mass of up to 4,600 kg and power from 6 to 16 kW.

At the time of this WTEC visit discussions were being held between Matra Marconi and Daimler-Benz to merge their spacecraft activities into a new company by 1998. This merger would then create a large, strong European spacecraft manufacturing entity.


The initial discussions during this WTEC visit concentrated on the organizational structure and the activities associated with operating as an integrated company. Duplication of facilities between the U.K. and France are called for since some of its customers prefer one location over the other for the manufacture of their satellites. MMS communications satellite business is increasing, and it is developing new technology and improving facilities to meet the needs of potential customers at competitive life-cycle costs. The life-cycle cost factors include not only the initial cost, but also rapid delivery, and costs linked to launch weight and life in orbit. Economies of scale and the development of efficient manufacturing processes are part of the Matra Marconi program to reduce costs. Active participation in science missions and programs such as SILEX for the ARTEMIS satellite as well as military missions ensure the insertion of new technology and modern manufacturing practices into all satellite programs, including the commercial ones.

Our hosts believe that future commercial satellites will be bigger and demand more power than existing satellites. Much of this is driven by the needs of the DBS and mobile satellite businesses. One factor in the development of new technology is the support of the French government sponsored (CNES) STENTOR program. The highlights of the Matra Marconi new technology activities include the following:

Electric Propulsion

They are licensed to use the Russian static plasma engine that uses xenon as its fuel and will deliver an Isp of 1,500 sec. An ion engine developed with DERA (U.K.) will fly on ARTEMIS.

Thermal Dissipation

Work is being done on two phase fluid, deployable heat pipes and radiators.


ISL (optical intersatellite links) for ARTEMIS are being developed.

Intra-satellite data links to replace the heavy copper cabling are also under development.


Li-ion batteries (90 W/kg) are being investigated.

GaAs (on Ge) solar panels offering 15-20 kW are under development in near time frame.

MMS has also established Project WEST, an interactive, broadband, multimedia satellite initiative, a major European contribution to the GII. While still being defined, it will probably work at Ka-band and consist of satellites located at GEO in the first phase and GEO/MEO in the second phase. Its initial appeal will be to corporate users with up to 10 Mbps bandwidth on demand. It will also have capability for video/DTH. Coverage will include Europe as well as North Africa and the Middle East using numerous spot beams. It will probably be a unit of Matra Marconi, 10% ownership, similar to the Motorola/Iridium business model. Critical satellite technologies for WEST will probably include the following:

The SILEX program involves 90 people working in Toulouse and Stevenage. Its mission is to relay video at 50 Mbps between orbiting satellites SPOT 4 (LEO) and ARTEMIS (GEO) and then to earth. It has a design lifetime of 10 years, 25 cm OD telescope, 130 W power, pointing accuracy of 1 arc second and uses GaAlAs laser light sources. Our hosts indicated that they expect that a second generation version of this package will be available for insertion into commercial spacecraft, including constellations, by 2000.

We visited the company's state-of the-art high bay area, which appeared to have the capability of assembling 5 or 6 large satellites at a time, and also visited the very active Ariane 4 and Ariane 5 Vehicle Equipment Bay electronics control assembly area. The adjacent INTESPACE facility, in which MMS is a shareholder, has a high bay area, which has total capability for thermal-vac, acoustic testing and a compact antenna range. This was followed by a tour of impressive components, board and software (both onboard and ground), development, assembly and test areas.

The WTEC visit concluded with a discussion of the UNOM (Users, Network Operators and Manufacturers) project. This is an experiment to provide file transfer capability between facilities in Europe via satellite and terrestrial means using ATM, at OC-3. Matra Marconi has responsibility for much of the protocol work and its testing and has results on the transfer of files using TCP that are similar to those in other labs, pointing to the importance of the satellite communications community working together and with the Internet Engineering Task Force to improve the efficiency of TCP over satellites at high bit rates.


Matra Marconi Space is a world class supplier of communications spacecraft and has technology and cost programs in place to ensure its competitiveness in the future.

Published: December 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian