January 9, 2024

2024, France renews its ambitions as Europe reinvents itself in space

Tuesday 9 January, CNES Chairman & CEO Philippe Baptiste presented his New Year wishes to the press, hailing journalists’ unstinting efforts to put space in the spotlight and help explain the stakes behind this sector to citizens. He then proceeded to review the standouts of the past year for CNES and chart the agency's path forward for the year ahead.

At the ESA Ministerial Conference on 6 and 7 November 2023 in Seville, the 22 member states reaffirmed their commitment to making Earth observation for climate science a priority for future investments, to offering a payload transport service for space exploration—notably in low Earth orbit—and to securing the future of Ariane 6, crucial to guarantee Europe’s independent access to space. President Emmanuel Macron, outlining the new development directions for the France 2030 investment plan last 11 December, affirmed that “France will support the development of a space freighter capable of ferrying payloads to future space stations. We must engage in this competition, only by employing the same method as for launchers, paving the way for private initiatives and encouraging more risk taking.”

At €3.029 billion, the agency’s budget for 2024 reflects the strong priority the government attaches to space. This covers the nation’s contribution to ESA of €1.108 billion, €898 million for the national space programme, the agency’s own resources amounting to €716 million, €82 million from the government's recovery plan, €211 million from the France 2030 plan, and €15 million from the PIA future investment programme.

Europe’s independent space launch capability is vital to preserve its sovereignty. Last 5 July, Ariane 5 made its final flight from Kourou, bringing down the curtain on a prodigious legacy of missions accomplished since 1997, among them such standouts as JUICE, James Webb and BepiColombo. Combined testing of Ariane 6 in December strengthened confidence in the robustness of this new launch system. The launcher is now set to make its maiden flight this year between mid-June and end July, and CNES’s number one goal working alongside industry contractors is to ensure its success in a fiercely competitive market.

The future of the heavy-lift launch market currently hinges on the Prometheus engine and the prospect of developing a recoverable first stage through the Callisto and Themis demonstrators. Needs are evolving substantially, driven by increased participation in space exploration—both in low Earth orbit and towards the Moon—and by efforts to secure competitive access to space in the long term. To this end, several preliminary projects to develop a high-thrust engine are now underway.

CNES also embarked on a promising initiative to extend Europe’s launcher family in December 2021 with a call for projects to accommodate micro/mini-launchers. Last December, a workshop on new regulatory requirements at the Guiana Space Centre (CSG) laid the foundations to bring on board these newcomers in line with the launch base’s green transition and its CSG New Generation (CSG-NG) refurbishment programme. CNES is investing significantly with a view to reducing the base’s energy consumption and carbon footprint, notably through a new energy architecture, solar farms and the HYGUANE project (HYdrogène GUyanais A Neutralité Environnementale - Environmentally neutral hydrogen for French Guiana) to establish the first green hydrogen production plant in France’s overseas territories. At the end of last year, the agency was also tasked by Bruno Le Maire, Minister for the Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty, with supporting efforts to reduce environmental footprints across the space sector via a shared roadmap designed to ensure that its development is commensurate with what the planet can sustain. The first strand of this plan will concern the sector’s decarbonization strategy to be aligned with the goal of working towards net-zero emissions by 2050. This strategy is expected to be released in September.

Since 2018, CNES has been working alongside the Ministry for Armed Forces to completely renew its space capabilities. With the French defence procurement agency DGA and industry contractors, the agency is of course closely involved in developing systems planned to enter service in 2030: IRIS for observation, Celeste for signals intelligence and Syracuse 5 for telecommunications. And in a first, it is investing heavily in the development of space surveillance and action capabilities with the Yoda demonstrator, for which it is the prime contractor, and the Egide system planned for launch in 2030.

CNES also continues to play a key role in innovative projects like the Kineis Internet of Things (IoT) constellation and the strengthening of the Cospas-Sarsat system. It is actively supporting the continuing deployment of the Galileo constellation and the European Union’s IRIS2 secure connectivity initiative.

Connect by CNES is a comprehensive programme spanning ideation, incubation, acceleration and funding, as well as the provision of patents and software, training, support in export markets and above all technical support—the agency’s trademark. This one-stop shop for New Space has already clocked up a number of notable successes, with more than 250 firms having taken advantage of it, 35 start-ups accelerated by programmes such as SpaceFounders and ever stronger emulation of young talents through ActInSpace hackathons, which attracted more than 5,000 competitors in 2023.

The space strand of the France 2030 programme is also stepping up several gears. Ten government orders and four calls for projects have so far been issued for micro- and mini-launchers and for in-orbit services (inspection and orbital manoeuvrability), providing a foundation for the development of players in these emerging markets. CNES issued two new orders at the end of 2023, one for crisis monitoring and management using satellite data, and another for in-orbit demonstration and validation (IOD/IOV) of new technologies. Ten more government orders are being prepared for this year, encompassing especially telecoms and satellite data exploitation.

Major advances in climate science were achieved in 2023 through international cooperation. The first data from the French-U.S. SWOT mission are already exceeding expectations with respect to its ability to detect surface waters. The Space for Climate Observatory (SCO) saw a surge in activity in 2023 with ten new signatories and more than 70 projects implemented in 28 countries, covering fields as varied as agriculture, water resource management, biodiversity and urban mitigation and adaptation. The TRISHNA mission in partnership with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), set to provide images of Earth’s surface in the visible and thermal infrared with unprecedented resolution and revisit frequency, remains on track for launch in 2026, while MicroCarb, capable of measuring atmospheric concentrations of CO2 all over the globe with extreme precision, is ready for launch.

This June will see the start in Kiruna of the Transat stratospheric zero-pressure balloon (ZPB) campaign to conduct French, European and Canadian science and technology experiments, including a transatlantic flight from northern Sweden to Canada, and the first launch of a manoeuvrable balloon to perform ceiling altitude and flight termination tests. And the final quarter of the year will see the launch of the third Copernicus Sentinel-1C satellite scheduled atop a Vega-C vehicle. This Earth-observing satellite will provide radar imagery vital for a broad spectrum of services, applications and scientific research.

2023 was a banner year for European science cooperation, with the successful launch of the JUICE spacecraft to study Jupiter and its three icy moons, the first images from the Euclid telescope and new insights into Mars from SuperCam on the Perseverance rover. At the end of the year, CNES delivered the Idefix rover developed jointly with the German space agency DLR for the Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency’s (JAXA) MMX spacecraft. 2024 is also shaping up to be a promising year. This spring will see the launch of the French-Chinese SVOM astrophysics mission to study gamma-ray bursts, carrying two French instruments, and of the Chinese Chang’e 6 mission with the French DORN instrument that will estimate outgassing from the lunar crust. In October, ESA’s HERA mission—to which CNES is contributing operational support for the two cubesats Juventas and Milani—will be launched. Lastly, the French contributions to the EnVision and LISA missions for ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme are expected to be validated after their official adoption by the agency’s Science Programme Committee (SPC) in January.

To conclude, CNES will be relocating temporarily from its Head Office at 2 Place Maurice Quentin, Paris, to 52 rue de la Verrerie in June. The agency’s staff will be at the new address while the building undergoes a major refurbishment in accordance with its 2020 Thermal Regulation, CSR approach and energy efficiency plan.