On November 10, 2016, France signed a deal with aerospace research office Onera to upgrade the ground-based “Graves” space-surveillance system, a move directed at bolstering French sovereignty, the defense procurement office said on Monday.
The deal may be worth around €40 million ($42 million), an Onera spokesperson said.
“The Direction Generale de l’Armement awarded Nov. 10, 2016, the modernization with the Graves (Grand Réseau Adapté à la Veille Spatiale) space radar to Onera (Office National d’Etudes et Recherches Aérospatiales), utilizing contractor Degreane Horizon,” DGA said in a statement. Degreane can be a unit of Vinci Energies.
France as well as the United States use a bilateral agreement to share military intelligence gathered from foreign satellites about the Graves system, the company website La Tribune reported Onera chairman Bruno Sainjon as saying.
The French air force operates the radar to get and track satellites and objects in orbit at 400 to 1,000 km above the Earth, the DGA said. The system allows the want to track foreign spy satellites gathering visual and signals intelligence on France. It also tracks space debris that could threaten French satellites.
Graves may be the only such detection system in Europe, according to the DGA statement. The deal seeks to overcome obsolescence of an system which entered service in 2005 and in the end to further improve performance, specifically in the spot of detecting a greater number of satellites of increasingly smaller size.
The operational life of Graves will likely be extended to 2030 and includes potential performance improvement, Onera said in the statement. The system allows the Air Force to catalog satellites passing overhead both at low orbit and out to a single,000 km.
The contract is for 5yrs, having a further three years under option, program manager Florent Muller told La Tribune. Apart from that initial modernization, Onera is studying options for future upgrades which will let the system to detect mini satellites weighing below 500 kg and micro satellites weighing below 150 kg.
Radar tracking has allowed France to interchange data with all the US, plus April 2015 the cooperation was extended since the two defense ministries planned to swap classified information, Sainjon told La Tribune.
Only the US, Russia and France operate this kind of space intelligence gathering capability. The system comprises a ground station for radar transmission, a reception station along with a center for processing.
Onera developed the technology for handling the satellite signals within the 1990s, handing the system over to the air force for operations in 2005.
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