A conference by Jean-Yves Le Gall

This conference on Outer Space, recorded by Louis de Gouyon Matignon for Space Legal Issues, was given by Jean-Yves Le Gall on Monday, April 15, 2019 at the Jockey Club de Paris in Paris, France.

The history of the space conquest and the place of France

Let us take up the history of the space conquest and the place of France in this conquest. First, some key dates of the space conquest: October 4, 1957, humanity wakes up listening to an improbable “beep-beep” from the sky: it was Sputnik and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. A few years later, on April 12, 1961, Gagarin, still the Soviet Union. At this moment, Americans are entangled in different difficulties with outer space.

While there were two space powers, the Soviet Union in the lead and the United States of America which wanted to position itself, General De Gaulle decided on December 19, 1961 to create a French national centre for space study. The idea was for France to become a space power. On November 26, 1965, the first “Diamant” launcher launched from the Sahara, Hammaguir, the first French satellite to be called “Astérix”. France became the third space power.

When CNES, the French National Centre for Space Studies, was created, its mission was to implement the French space policy. Last year, we celebrated the 57th anniversary of CNES. Today, we have five areas of activity: launchers, science, Earth observation, telecommunications and defense.

Last year, in 2018, we had an exceptional year for launchers, including the hundredth launch of Ariane 5; there have only been successes since the fifteenth launch (Ariane 5 has had a complicated start to life). On the first fourteen launches, we had four failures; at the time, while I was president of Arianespace, we reinvented the Ariane 5 program with success (eighty-nine successes in a row).

In the scientific field, the robot Mascot landed on the asteroid Ryugu, a cooperation with Japan and Germany. We also had BepiColombo (whose journey to Mercury will last seven years), a probe that will go around Mercury, a calcined pebble, the closest planet to the Sun. And last year, we especially had the launch of InSight, thanks to a Franco-American cooperation. We launched this lander on May 5th and it landed on the surface of Mars on November 26th; InSight’s main instrument is a French seismometer that we have provided to NASA.

This tool will have the mission, placed on the surface of Mars, to capture the earthquakes of Mars. This is very important to know the evolution of Mars; we know that two or three billion years ago, Mars and Earth were about the same, with oceans. Mars has become a cold, frozen desert, whereas the Earth has given birth to life. The question is why the planets evolved differently? To understand this, it is necessary in particular to be interested in the evolution of Mars’ magnetism, to know if the heart of Mars is a solid or liquid nucleus. The SEIS instrument is measuring Martian earthquakes.

In the field of Earth observation, the third area we are working on, we have launched in cooperation with China the CFOSAT satellite (China-France Oceanography SATellite) to answer the following question: why when the wind blows on the sea are there waves? This is a basic scientific question. This is not so obvious since there is no reason for the sea to start waving when the wind blows. We also launched last year a MetOp satellite, on which there is an atmospheric sounder. The goal is to improve the weather forecast: today, we are on 72-hour forecasts; the ideal would be 96-hour forecasts.

In the field of telecommunications, there is of course Galileo, a satellite positioning system developed by the European Union and including a space segment whose deployment should be completed by 2020. Galileo is in orbit, it is a big European success. If you have bought a smartphone in the last two years, you receive Galileo. The accuracy has improved. With the American GPS, you know in which street you are, with the European Galileo, you know which side of the street you are on. This is important for the development of connected objects (autonomous vehicles in particular, trains…). Galileo is a very big success. Today, it is said that Galileo is the European GPS, soon it will be said that GPS is the American Galileo. Galileo is ten times more accurate than GPS.

Last year, we also launched the Konnect project, Eutelsat’s broadband Internet access service. This project will be launched in outer space by 2021. It will erase the white areas in Internet matters in the hexagon. It is difficult to have Internet in Cantal for example; in 2021, this satellite will be operational. We are developing this project with Orange. Internet will be everywhere. This is an important land use decision.

As for the defense, the year ended remarkably with CSO. France has had military observation satellites since 1995. The first launch was Helios, there was a second generation and today, thanks to CSO, the third generation of French military satellites. We do not talk much about it, but they are totally integrated into the daily life of the country. All outside operations would not be possible without our independent observation capability. CSO is doing a lot better than its predecessors.

These five fields of activity had been assigned to CNES since 1961. We needed launchers. We needed telescopes looking towards the Universe and able to do science, but also able to look to the Earth, to observe the Earth. We also wanted to make telecommunications, following the NASA Echo satellites, with which we communicated from the Pleumeur-Bodou (CTS) satellite telecommunication centre, located in Côtes-d’Armor in Brittany. We also knew we would do the defense. In short, sixty years later, the French space program is working very well.

There is a very strong political will in France. We have developed a unique ecosystem, where there are five components to implement our space projects: universities or colleges, with a very good level. We are one of the few countries to teach space techniques. ISAE-SUPAERO in Toulouse, but also in other schools. We also have science labs with the best scientists in the world. For example, on Martian missions, we have the greatest connoisseurs, including Francis Rocard. Since 1989, he has been responsible for the Solar System exploration program at the CNES.

We have a space agency and it’s fundamental. It translates in program the desideratum of the scientists or users of the satellites. We have a remarkable industrial fabric with large groups: Thales Alenia Space, Airbus Defense and Space… And finally, we have very dynamic start-ups. In recent years, space skills have been developing. It is thanks to these five components that France occupies a very important position in the space conquest.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, how does the CNES works?

In France, space creates about sixteen thousand jobs. At CNES, two thousand and four hundred people work, it’s an annual budget of two and a half billion euros, of which eighty per cent go to industry, spread over four centres: in Paris (2 centres), Toulouse and French Guiana (Kourou). In Kourou, we shoot Ariane 5, as well as Soyuz (Russian) and Vega (Italian). These four centres illustrate our spatial policy. The state of the CNES budget is very good. Thanks to these means, space is important for France. It starts at the national level, especially with the defense, with our scientists. It continues at the European level, thanks to ESA.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation outside Brussels, made up of twenty-two Member States. France is the leading contributor, with Germany behind and Italy behind. At the level of the European Union, there is Galileo and Copernicus, the most successful program in the study of the environment.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, what about cooperation?

Finally, we are very present internationally. We are the country with the most collaborations, the space power with the most international cooperation. Our big partner, outside of Europe, is the United States of America. With two components: oceanography (important in terms of climate change and ocean observation) and research around Mars: all American probes for almost ten years have been using French instruments. We are on Curiosity with CHEMCAM (CHEMistry CAMera), InSight, we will be present on Mars 2020. For the first time, a drone will be placed on Mars: a small object will fly on Mars. It’s complicated because of the very thin atmosphere, with strong winds.

Second cooperation, with China. We have plans for 2021 with China. On the next Chinese mission that will go on the Moon, there will be French instruments. We also cooperate with India, a great space power with a very rustic approach. The Mangalyaan spacecraft, which sent some data, cost less than the Gravity movie budget. Another space power with which we cooperate is Japan, which has a tradition of excellence in space. We will go on Phobos, or Mars I, the larger of the two satellites of Mars, from 2024 with Japan. The mission will be to take a sample of Phobos. We are also working with Russia; we are now shooting Soyuz from Guyana for small loads (too small for Ariane 5). Thanks to these decisions taken in 1961, CNES is at the centre of the European and global game. France wears the colours of space very much everywhere in the world.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, what about New Space?

In terms of space powers, the United States of America is in the lead, followed by Europe (quality) and China (quantity). Space is important because it comes in a range of applications that we do not necessarily think about. Space is experiencing a revolution because of digital and international. Finally, France, thanks to Europe too, is very strong.

Today, the space sector is in turmoil, challenged by globalisation. Space globalisation is divided into three parts: digital, militarisation and international. Digital is the size of satellites that decrease (which implies more launches). The first environmental study satellites weighed seven tons; today, they are only five hundred kilograms. In the future, they will surely make only fifty kilograms. It’s like in the photography sector: miniaturisation. It is miniaturisation that allows new players to enter the space market. We have gone from a few space agencies to some sixty space agencies. Most countries today have a space agency. Private individuals are also developing space systems. It is a revolution: there are more and more people present with ever greater ambitions. CNES must continue to be competitive, we must continue to innovate.

One of the important issues is also global warming. Space is fundamental to understanding climate change; scientists have defined fifty essential climatic variables, of which twenty-six, more than half, can only be observed by satellite. Satellites are at the centre of the game. They have highlighted the warming of the Earth, the rise of water… Meteorology is also possible thanks to satellites. There is also renewed interest in exploration. For scientific (explore asteroids, Mars or the Moon, we consume artificial intelligence) and political reasons (lunar conquest, especially because of China).

Jean-Yves Le Gall, soon manned flights in Europe?

There is no manned flight in Europe because it is expensive. The United States of America does manned flight. Apollo 11 was one of the biggest hits. On April 12, 1981, it is the first flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia. As for Russia, it is the legacy of the Soviet Union. The Chinese have developed copies of the Soyuz capsule. Jiuquan’s shooting range is Baikonur’s copy (even the colour of the tapestry is the same). It is therefore, for us French, too expensive. In addition, we launch from Kourou to the east; for satellites, it’s perfect, for manned flights, it’s more dangerous. By the way, the future of the International Space Station (ISS) will be the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway or LOP-G, formerly Deep Space Gateway, a lunar-orbiting orbital station project.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, what about space law?

Space law will develop, there will be more and more problems. France set an example with the LOI n° 2008-518 du 3 juin 2008 relative aux opérations spatiales. Americans want to “set the rules” on the Moon. It is a subject in full development.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, is there espionage?

Today, the main vector of espionage is cyber-space. The real threat comes from computer attacks. There are few real technological secrets today. Everything is known. There are still a few secrets to subsystems. In the late 1990s, the Americans had asked the Chinese to launch one of their satellites; the Chinese have copied the satellite and improve their accuracy. Today, the USA cannot launch from China (ITAR rules).

What about space debris?

The subject of debris is largely exaggerated; many are sci-fi solutions concerning the recovery of debris. The LOI n° 2008-518 du 3 juin 2008 relative aux opérations spatiales helped a lot. There is debris and some acts create debris: China, satellite collisions, India…