December 13, 1965 Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Electronics,
published 1930 - 1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
France's A-1 (aka "Astérix")
satellite launch in November of 1965 made it the sixth country to place a satellite
in orbit - behind Russia, USA, the UK, Canada, and Italy, respectively. Astérix's
primary mission was to test the booster rocket, and verify the ground tracking
networks. Onboard were a radar transponder, a tracking beacon, and a telemetry
transmitter. Due to a presumed damaged antenna, received signals from the beacon were
very weak and only lasted for two days. Although initially France relied on U.S.
contractors for much of its hardware (mechanical and electronic), it endeavored to
develop and produce the majority of the required technology in-country. Note that the
commemorative postage stamp issued by Ecuador uses the same picture of the
booster that is in this article.
France Joins the Space Age Club
The successful launch of its first satellite was technically unimpressive but it became
a membership card in the world's most exclusive organization
By Robert Farrell
Paris News Bureau
Transmission from France's first satellite was late, weak and short-lived,
but it proved that the Diamant booster worked - and well.
The 88-pound satellite that roared into orbit from its launch pad in the Algerian
Sahara November 26 was not a complete technical success, but it was a resounding political
coup. It made France a member of one of the most exclusive and costly clubs in the world
- the space age club. There are only two other members - the United States and the Soviet
The A-1 satellite's main purpose - to test the French-developed, three-stage Diamant
booster - was accomplished: the booster worked well. Transmission from the satellite,
however, was almost a flop: one of the satellite's four antennas apparently was damaged
during powered flight. This lack of transmission almost spoiled the second purpose of
the launch - to test France's two satellite ground station networks, called Diane and
Iris. Diane consists of tracking stations at the Hammaguir launch base in the Sahara
and Pretoria, South Africa. Iris has telemetry and control stations at Hammaguir, Pretoria,
Ouagadougou in West Africa, and in Beirut, Lebanon.
During the first orbit, neither Iris nor Diane picked up a signal. On the second pass,
Hammaguir picked up a faint noise - enough to know the A-1 was in orbit. The equipment
on board the satellite - for the most part silent - consists of a radar transponder and
two transmitters; one is a beacon and the other is for telemetry. Batteries on board
were supposed to keep the equipment going for 15 days. The orbit was intended to last
a year, and probably will since the 330-mile perigee and the 1,090-mile apogee keep it
above atmospheric drag. The period of revolution is 108 minutes.
I. Space Budget
France's space program, of course, is modest by comparison with programs in the United
States and Soviet Union. France currently is spending only 1 percent of the amount the
U.S. is spending, and no man-in-space project is planned.
In 1962 when France's civil space program got under way, the Centre National d'Etudes
Spatiales (CNES) - the French equivalent of the U. S. National Aeronautics and Space
Administration - had a budget of approximately $18 million. This year, the CNES budget
is up to $57 million and in 1966 will total $74 million.
Actually, CNES officials complain that they are getting about 40 percent less than
they are requesting. General Robert Aubiniere, CNES boss, considers an annual $100-million
budget to be a minimal one. The space agency, in fact, has been forced to limit its programs
because of the budget squeeze.
Still, it's misleading to judge French space efforts entirely by the CNES budget.
Because France has military ambitions, including the development of long-range, ground-to-ground
strategic missiles and Polaris-type missiles for nuclear submarines, there is a good
deal of military fallout on the French civil space effort.
CNES Diamant launcher is an example. The rocket is being financed almost entirely
by the French defense ministry. So, the development of this $100-million CNES booster
has not cost the space agency any budgetary headaches. Yet it's the Diamant that has
enabled France to proclaim itself number three in space.
II. Space Plans
France's A-1 satellite, launched November 26, should stay up about
a year. The satellite succeeded in one mission and flopped in another. The booster worked
well, but the transmission in flight was poor, apparently because of a damaged antenna.
France, however, does not intend to confine its space effort to national programs.
It is participating in the European space launcher project by building the second stage
of the Europa rocket. It is also working on a satellite program with NASA. The first
one, designated FR-l, was scheduled to be launched Dec. 6 by a NASA Scout booster from
Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
The FR-1 satellite, designed and developed by CNES, is France's first scientific satellite.
Scheduled to be launched into a near-polar orbit, the FR-1 was designed to measure the
effects of the earth's magnetic field on very-low-frequency propagation. The experiment
was to involve continuous radiation of signals from two ground stations, one in France
and the other at Balboa, Panama. The satellite antenna system was to assist in tracking
vlf signal propagation along the flight path and in measuring signal strength direction
and signal-noise ratio.
Three more satellites will be launched from Hammaguir powered by Diamant boosters
in January, the 80-pound D-1 satellite will go up - the first French scientific satellite
orbited by a French booster; later, the D-1B; and in mid-1967 the 175-pound D-1D.
After mid-1967, the French will shift their space shots to a new $60-million launch
center now under development in French Guiana, in South America. This base, which will
employ some 25,000 people, will not be completely finished until 1969 [Electronics November
1, p. 159].
In all, the French have orbited one satellite and scheduled four more flights. In
addition, the French hope to work out a new agreement with NSA for launching a meteorological
satellite with a NASA booster sometime in 1967 to 1968.
As might be expected, the bulk of the electronics business is handled by French electronics
companies such as Compagnie Francaise Thomson-Houston and the Compagnie Generale de Telegraphie
Sans Fil (CSF). One of the reasons for the French effort is to keep its companies proficient
in advanced technology.
Initially, the French leaned on a U.S. supplier for such satellite components as silicon
cells but now these items are being developed by Societe Anonyme de Telecommunications.
U.S. companies are involved if they have French affiliates, such as the International
Telephone and Telegraph Corp.'s wholly-owned subsidiary, Laboratoire Central des Telecommunications
(LCT). They can also sell to France if they develop equipment so superior that the French
have no recourse but to buy from the U. S.
When France moves its space activities to French Guiana, there may be more opportunity
for U. S. business. Although CNES has already ordered its two big tracking radars from
Thomson-Houston - similar to the Radio Corp. of America's AN/FPQ-16 missile range standbys
- two digital computers must still be purchased and two new telemetry stations must be
France hopes the favorable location of the site for launching will attract many foreign
Posted September 18, 2018