Monitoring France’s bilateral relations in the space sector


For over 40 years, France has been developing international cooperation not only within the European framework, through programmes implemented by the European Union (Galileo, GMES) and the European Space Agency, but also by way of bilateral partnerships established with the leading space-faring nations (United States, Russia, Japan) and with other countries that have developed their own space capabilities or have expressed an interest in doing so.

Intergovernmental or inter-agency agreementsBilateral cooperation in the space sector is developed through intergovernmental or inter-agency agreements. At intergovernmental level, the MAE plays a key role in interministerial coordination during the negotiation and ratification phases.

The task of implementing these agreements falls to the National Space Studies Centre (CNES), the designated "competent body" responsible for implementation of the institutional component. Institutional cooperation may also be accompanied by an industrial component (sale of space equipment by a French manufacturer). In such cases, if the intergovernmental agreement covers all aspects of cooperation with a partner, it also draws a clear distinction between the institutional and the industrial components. The MAE is also involved in monitoring and driving the political impetus for implementation of such agreements.

The bilateral agreements on space cooperation that France has recently entered into emphasise the development of space applications, a field that offers considerable potential in the chain of space activities.

As part of this process, France shares its expertise in the contribution that space technology can make to combating climate change, the prevention and mitigation of natural disasters, the management of natural resources, land use and environmental protection, but also in the fields of seismology, meteorology, altimetry, oceanography, distance learning and telemedicine, as part of its institutional cooperation with numerous partners.

Other areas of cooperation covered in these agreements include training space sector specialists, organising joint events and dialogue on questions of international space law or earth sciences.

France’s primary partnersThe leading space-faring nationsThe cooperation between France and the United States dates back for over 40 years, and has developed further under the terms of the intergovernmental agreement of 23 January 2007. Given the wide variety of activities conducted by the two main US space agencies (NASA and NOAA), cooperation between the two countries covers a broad spectrum of fields, including Earth observation, earth sciences and cosmology and manned spaceflight. In the fields of altimetry and oceanography, the JASON programme, initially a joint French-US programme gradually extended to include Europe (EUMETSAT), is an outstanding example. The JASON-2 satellite was launched in June 2008. The SWOT interferometric altimetry programme, which provides elevation data across a 120 km swathe, is a technological breakthrough, underlining the excellent quality of French and US cooperation in this area.

France has maintained relations with Russia in the space sector since 1966. The cooperation between the two countries focuses on access to space, as Russia has a long and successful history with launch vehicles, particularly Soyuz, which has been in operation for several decades. Franco-Russian cooperation is now pursued under the terms of the intergovernmental agreement of 26 November 1996.

"Soyuz at Kourou" is the flagship Franco-Russian space cooperation programme, initiated in the late 1990s. A number of intergovernmental agreements between France, Russia and the European Space Agency were required in order to put the programme into effect. The first Soyuz launcher lifted off from the Guiana Space Centre (CSG) in October 2011.

"Project Ural" to design the launchers of the future is working on technology demonstrators for use in next generation launcher programmes, with the emphasis on reusable launchers. The "Year of France and Russia 2010" gave rise to the Baumanets student microsatellite project, jointly developed by the University of Montpellier 2 and Bauman University in Moscow.

France and Japan share similar concerns in the space sector, focusing mainly on technology development, sustainable development, environmental protection and deep space exploration. Space cooperation with Japan is conducted through five working groups addressing the fields of Earth observation, space transport, space exploration, components and use of the International Space Station.

Other partnershipsThe intergovernmental agreement on space cooperation signed between France and Italy on 6 February 2007 sets out the guidelines of cooperation within the framework of the European Space Agency (launchers, Earth observation, space exploration), the European Union (Galileo/EGNOS programmes, GMES initiative) and at the multilateral and bilateral levels. Flagship cooperation programmes include the Athena-Fidus programme to provide dual-use broadband satellite telecommunications, and ORFEO, an Earth observation dual system.

France signed a new intergovernmental agreement on bilateral space cooperation with India on 30 September 2008. The agreement covers two flagship programmes: Megha-Tropiques, a satellite mission to study tropical climatology, and SARAL, a joint mission on operational oceanography and definition of a campaign to measure the impact of precipitation and cloud masses on satellite telecommunications systems. Megha-Tropiques was launched on 12 October 2011 and SARAL on 25 February 2013.

Bilateral space cooperation with China is pursued under the terms of the intergovernmental agreement of 15 May 1997. Focusing mainly on the scientific field, the cooperation programme is organised through two bodies: the Joint Committee on Space Cooperation, and the Space subgroup of the strategic dialogue.

The Joint Committee on Space Cooperation, which held its 10th meeting on 1 April 2011, addressed subjects relating to cosmology, earth sciences (oceanography, seismology) microgravity, life sciences and their applications (tele-epidemiology).

Projects conducted by the Space subgroup of the strategic dialogue, set up in 2004, relate to oceanography (CFOSAT project) and astronomy (SVOM programme).

Space cooperation between France and Brazil is covered by the intergovernmental agreements signed on 27 November 1997. Its main focus has long been on stratospheric balloons: Brazil is uniquely well placed for both their release and recovery.

The French President’s visit to Brazil on 22 December 2008 gave new momentum to this cooperation with the decision to launch three new projects: the Brazilian multi-mission platform (MMP) satellite programme, the proposed Brazilian Geostationary Satellite (GBS) system, and the GPM project to study the water cycle in the intertropical zone.

France signed an international agreement on space cooperation with Algeria on 1 February 2006. The scope of the agreement covers space applications, in particular the contribution of space technology to land use and development, environmental protection, prevention and mitigation of natural disasters, training specialists in the space sector and technology programmes.

The intergovernmental agreement on space cooperation signed during the French President’s visit to the Republic of Kazakhstan (6 October 2009) focuses primarily on space applications (meteorology, telemedicine, the management of natural resources, land use, prevention and mitigation of natural disasters) and training for space specialists.

The 12th Franco-German Council of Ministers (FGCM) held on 4 February 2010 decided to expand space cooperation between France and Germany, hitherto conducted primarily through the European Space Agency, by adding a substantial bilateral segment with the announcement of the joint Merlin mission on climate observation by satellite. The MERLIN methane remote sensing microsatellite is scheduled for launch in 2014.

The 13th FGCM (6 February 2012) created two new CNES-DLT (German space agency) working groups: one on new generation European launchers and the other on the International Space Station. The groups were tasked with drawing up joint French and German positions in preparation for the ESA Ministerial Council on 20-21 November 2012.

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