The French Armament General Directorate’s (DGA) ‘Capacité de Renseignement Electromagnétique Spatiale/Space-based Signal Intelligence Capability’ satellites have been successfully launched.

An Arianespace Vega rocket lifted off with the satellites from the European spaceport in French Guiana.

Known by the French acronym CERES, the satellites were designed and built by Airbus Defence and Space, and Thales.

Airbus Defense and Space is the prime contractor on the CERES project while Thales Alenia Space supplied platforms for the three spacecraft.

According to the companies, CERES satellites are drawn on the companies’ experience acquired from the ESSAIM and ELISA micro-satellite demonstrators unveiled in 2004 and 2011 respectively.

Airbus Space Systems head Jean Marc Nasr said: “We are ready to go with the next generation of space surveillance capability for France: CERES! Entrusting Airbus with the construction and full space system responsibility is a ringing endorsement of our expertise and the quality of our technology, acquired in particular from the ESSAIM and ELISA demonstrators.

“The three CERES satellites will provide France with its first satellite system for signal intelligence, thus confirming our ability to act as prime contractor for French space-based intelligence systems.”

CERES satellites are designed to detect and geo-locate electromagnetic (EM) signals from radio communication systems and radars.

Capable of operating in any kind of weather conditions, the CERES system will offer in-depth information to support military operations for the French Armed Forces.

The system comprises three identical satellites carrying the signals intelligence (SIGINT) payload and the user and ground control segments.

Thales Defence Mission Systems executive vice-president Philippe Duhamel said: “CERES will complete the French strategic and tactical defence intelligence capability with its first signal intelligence (SIGINT) satellite system.”

In March 2015, Thales and Airbus Defence and Space were selected as co-prime contractors for the design and construction of the CERES programme.