Friday 12 March, President Emmanuel Macron and the Minister for Armed Forces Florence Parly visited the Toulouse Space Centre, where they were welcomed by CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall. On this occasion, Air Division General Michel Friedling, Chief of Space Command, presented France’s first-ever military space exercise, AsterX. President Macron was then taken to the French Operations Centre for Science and Exploration (FOCSE) to watch work planning activities for the French SuperCam instrument on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover.
Ever since its inception in 1961, CNES has worked closely with the Ministry for Armed Forces, one of its three overseeing ministries with the Ministry of the Economy, Finance and the Recovery and the Ministry for Higher Education, Research and Innovation. The agency is today involved in the conduct of a number of military space programmes, execution of space operations and planning for the future. On 13 July 2019, President Macron announced the creation of a Space Command (CDE, for Commandement de l’Espace) within the Air and Space Force. Established on 3 September 2019, the CDE is continuing to ramp up in pursuit of its mission to implement the nation’s military space strategy and should ultimately be staffed by a cadre of some 500 personnel by 2025. Alongside operational aspects, CNES is also closely involved in planning the future capabilities envisioned in the military space strategy. For example, it has oversight and prime contract responsibility for the Yoda orbital space surveillance demonstrator planned for launch end 2023.
On 8 March, the CDE began France’s first-ever military space exercise, AsterX. This tactical and operational military space training exercise involved some 50 participants, including operations experts at the CDE’s C3OS space operations command and control centre in Paris, CMOS military satellite observation centre in Creil and COSMOS military space surveillance and tracking operations centre in Lyon. The exercise tested the capability to protect French satellites in the event of an attack, entry into the atmosphere of dangerous debris and detection of a spy satellite.
At the end of the morning, President Macron met SuperCam teams at the FOCSE. SuperCam is the mission’s ‘Swiss Army knife’, capable of performing five different types of analysis to study Mars’ geology and help choose samples for collection by the Perseverance rover. A first health check announced on 10 March confirmed that it is in great shape. Once checkout is complete, Perseverance will begin its science mission in earnest. At the FOCSE, scientists from numerous CNRS and partner research laboratories and operations engineers at CNES are gearing up for this next phase set to run for several years. A bright future and a host of scientific discoveries beckon.