Besides Earth-observation missions and exploration of the universe, optical technologies have a wide range of applications in telecommunications, particularly high-speed and low-noise inter-satellite links, and in the domain of interferometry, where they are employed in gravimetry and atomic clocks.
High-resolution optical imaging first came on the scene in 1986 with SPOT 1 and is still very much to the fore today with CSO-2, demonstrating France’s excellence in the domain of sovereignty and defence, while Sentinel-2 products from the EU Copernicus programme are considered a benchmark for their ability to image the globe every five days and deliver freely accessible data.
Other technologies that have also proved their worth for many years now include Eumetsat’s IASI series of high-spectral-resolution instruments, the lidars measuring winds on ADM-AEOLUS and methane on MERLIN, the MIRI and NIRSPEC infrared spectrometers on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to be launched at the end of the year by Ariane 5, and on the Euclid mission that will seek to unlock the secrets of dark matter and dark energy, and the SuperCam instrument on the Perseverance rover that recently landed on Mars, which is carrying a CMOS high-resolution imaging micro-camera developed by CNES.
All of these examples illustrate the space optics community’s remarkable capacity for innovation. Optical instrumentation is providing key input for space agency programmes and underpinning numerous multilateral partnerships for ambitious missions to meet sovereign, social, scientific and economic needs. Their technologies are helping us to see further and push back the limits of what we can observe from space—a great achievement for Europe in which France is playing a prime role.