September 19, 2014


The development of an international security policy implies the need for information that is global, accurate, reliable, repeatable and fast to enable our country to play its role in the world on behalf of international security and the defense of its vital interests. The performances of observation satellites and international overflight rights give them an autonomous capability for the appraisal of situations. This is why the French government, within a European context, made the decision in the 1980s to focus on acquiring this autonomy.
With the launch of the first military observation satellite Helios 1, on July 7 1995, France, Italy and Spain joined the small group of nations that have an efficient space observation system at their disposal for security and defense purposes. In the near future, Helios 2 will offer a significant improvement to the resolution, the number of images produced and the speed of image sequences, while reducing the lead time between when the image is requested and when it becomes available to users.

As one of the key elements to sovereignty, space observation acts as a force multiplier for Defense, and the performances achieved by space observation systems offer a diversity of uses for space images, from mapping to terminal guidance of missiles, and from mission preparation to damage assessment.

Defense needs

For defense and security purposes, space imaging requirements must fulfil the following role:

  • primarily, the collection of images and information from images, in order to:
  • have the necessary information for an autonomous appraisal of the situation,
  • identify the precursory signs of a crisis and thus improve the preventive efficiency of action taken by the political and military authorities, and assist crisis management,
  • contribute, from a strategic and operative viewpoint, to the analysis required for the preparation, planning and execution of military operations (assessment of threat, detection and location of targets, damage assessment),
  • monitor proliferation and verify disarmament treaties.
  • in addition to other means, the collection of images required for military geography,
  • possibility of contributing to the collection of information required for civil defense missions (natural disasters, environmental surveillance).

Needs can therefore be grouped around the following segments:

  • geographic data bases : composition of 2D and 3D mapping databases, space maps, digital terrain models (DTM) or digital height models (DHM) using stereoscopic images
  • data specific to the use of force and weapons systems (targets, registration data, ground surface and navigation elements, etc.)
  • data relating to documentation, crisis and proliferation indicators (coverage of potential crisis areas, surveillance of proliferating countries and disarmament)

Importance of lead times

The "recency" of the information in the image is just as important as the information itself.
The lead times required for acquisition and operational processing must be compatible with the decision-making or utilisation time, and vary according to the level of use:

  • the strategic level requires the continuous acquisition of image data over the entire world, using specific detection capabilities, in order to prevent crises and conflicts and monitor the application of treaties,
  • during the different phases of a projection operation, the operative level implies the collection and analysis of essential information for acquiring or completing the areas of engagement. This results in the production of mapping data (maps, space maps, DTM, DHM) and the composition of databases of targets required for the preparation of missions and weapons systems. It is therefore essential to update these databases, often with very short deadlines, which implies a high revisit capability,
  • the tactical level, which corresponds to the engagement of troops, requires the regular and frequent assessment of the situation and assessments of the operations theatre. At this level, the date of the information is fundamental, and coverage of the operations theatre must be as comprehensive as possible. All available sensors are used to assess the adverse situation, implement the appropriate weapons systems, engage the missions and determine the results of strikes.

To meet these needs, the ORFEO system, together with other space sensors (Helios, SPOT, etc) or airborne sensors (drones, reconnaissance or surveillance aircraft) will complete the range of acquisition capabilities between now and 2007.
Its optical component will offer a particularly appreciable complement to the dedicated military sensors. The Pleiades HR system, thanks to its flexibility, will provide faster sequences of images, and will therefore produce a large number of images over a crisis area in one single pass.
Thanks to its all-weather feature, the Radar component (Cosmo-Skymed) will offer the continuity and complementarity of optical space observation.