PARIS Dec 7 France plans to launch a military
spy satellite on Wednesday, the defence ministry said, as Paris
boosts spending on its independent surveillance from space
despite closer military co-operation with the United States.
This will be the first such launch under President Nicolas
Sarkozy who brought France back into NATO's military command
earlier this year, following a 40-year partial rift with the
The satellite, Helios 2B is slated to blast off on a
European Ariane rocket at 1:26 p.m. (1626 GMT) on Wednesday from
the European Space Agency launch site in French Guiana.
While cooperating more closely with the United States on
military planning, France sees independent access to space
intelligence as a strategic priority.
"In an international context marked by uncertainty, France
must be able to understand the strategic environment in which it
is evolving and to anticipate threats," the defence ministry
said in a briefing document.
The satellite would help in preparing missions and assessing
threats, as well as drawing up maps of uncharted zones in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad and the neighbouring Sudanese region of
Manufactured by the space division of Airbus parent EADS
EAD.PA, Helios 2B is the second of France's second generation
of spy satellites. Its predecessor was launched in 2004.
It was initially planned as a pan-European satellite series
to counter U.S. space intelligence domination during the Cold
War. However, France's European partners have been less willing
to participate financially in the Helios 2 programme.
The 1990s first generation Helios 1 programme attracted
contributions totalling 21 percent from Spain and Italy. But
France has financed 90 percent of the 2 billion euro ($3
billion) Helios 2 series with Italy, Belgium, Spain and Greece
contributing 10 percent.
(Reporting by Alexander Miles; editing by David Stamp)