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Thales and Airbus Defence and Space have been selected as co-prime contractors for the design and construction of the French Military’s future Capacity de Renseignement Electromagnétique Spatial (CERES) programme.

Scheduled to enter service by 2020, the CERES system is comprised of three closely positioned signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellites that are designed to detect and locate ground signals, along with ground-control and user-ground segments.

Under a contract with the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA), Airbus will build three CERES satellites, which would provide France with its first operational SIGINT capability.

Thales has been chosen to develop the mission payload and the user-ground segment in charge of programming the satellites and the data processing.

"This satellite system will be one of the most sophisticated in the world, giving France a capability that few nations possess."

Airbus Defence and Space Systems head François Auque said: "Signals intelligence is flagged as a top priority in the French Defence and National Security white paper.

"Airbus Defence and Space, which started working with Thales through CERES, is proud to provide France with its industrial and technological expertise, thus confirming its position as the prime contractor for all French space-based intelligence systems."

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Thales Defence Mission Systems executive vice-president Pierre Eric Pommellet said: "This satellite system will be one of the most sophisticated in the world, giving France a capability that few nations possess.

"To design and build CERES, we will be drawing on the experience and expertise acquired on the ESSAIM and ELISA demonstrators."

Meanwhile, Thales Alenia Space will supply the platform under subcontract to Airbus.

Identifying intelligence as one of four priorities in its defence white paper, France has earmarked funding for SIGINT, including the CERES programme, under the 2014 to 2019 defence spending plan.

Image: The CERES satellites will provide France with its first operational SIGINT capability. Photo: courtesy of Thales.