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France Launches CERES SIGINT System

Airbus and Thales Built on ESSAIM and ELISA Demonstrators

The CERES [Capacité de Renseignement Electromagnétique Spatiale – Space-based Signal Intelligence Capability] satellites, designed and built by Airbus Defence and Space and Thales for the French armed forces, have been successfully launched from French Guiana onboard a Vega launcher, the companies announced on 16 November.

We are ready to go with the next generation of space surveillance capability for France: CERES! Entrusting Airbus with the construction and full space system responsibility is a ringing endorsement of our expertise and the quality of our technology, acquired in particular from the ESSAIM and ELISA demonstrators,” explained Jean Marc Nasr, Head of Space Systems at Airbus. “The three CERES satellites will provide France with its first satellite system for signal intelligence, thus confirming our ability to act as prime contractor for French space-based intelligence systems.”

CERES is designed to detect and geo-locate electromagnetic signals from radio communication systems, and radars, from areas that surface sensors cannot reach. From its low Earth orbit, CERES is free from airspace overflight constraints and can operate in all types of weather. The system will provide in-depth information to support military operations for the French armed forces, improving their situational awareness.

CERES will complete the French strategic and tactical defence intelligence capability with its first signal intelligence (SIGINT) satellite system. DGA trusts Thales to be in charge of the CERES end-to-end mission performance, for which we rely on our experience of more than 20 years in space-based SIGINT, especially with ESSAIM and ELISA, our unique know-how in satellite payloads and user ground segments, and our wide knowledge in SIGINT and electronic warfare in all environments,” commented Philippe Duhamel, EVP, Defence Mission Systems at Thales.

The system includes the space segment, consisting of a swarm of three identical satellites carrying the SIGINT payload, as well as the user and ground control segments. Airbus Defence and Space and Thales are co-contractors for the full end-to-end system. The former company is responsible for global system integration and the space segment, comprising the three satellites, while Thales is responsible for full mission chain and system performance, from onboard payload to user ground segment. In addition, Thales Alenia Space acted as a subcontractor to Airbus, supplying the satellites’ platforms. The French space agency, CNES, as assisting partner to the DGA, procured the launch services and ground control segment.

CERES draws on Airbus and Thales’ experience acquired from the ESSAIM (COMINT) and ELISA (ELINT) micro-satellite demonstrators, launched in 2004 and 2011 respectively. The technical and operational lessons learnt from these systems were key to enabling the very high performance in electromagnetic detection and compatibility, demanded by this mission.


CERES represents the next generation of SIGINT for the French armed forces. (Image: Thales)

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