Franco-Italian Athena-Fidus Offers Wideband Satcom
In February 2010, a EUR 280 million contract launched the Athena-Fidus (Access on THeatres for European allied forces NAtions-French Italian Dual Use Satellite) satellite program. The program is similar to the concept behind the US/Australian WGS, aiming to complement hardened satellite systems with a non-hardened broadband system. The satellite was launched in 2014.
France’s recent scramble to find the satellite bandwidth required to operate its Heron/Harfang UAVs in Afghanistan illustrates the project’s immediate military relevance. Once operational, the Athena-Fidus system will be used by the French, Belgian and Italian armed forces, as well as the civil protection services of France and Italy.
Athena-Fidus is envisioned as a single geostationary satellite operating in the Ka and EHF bands, and its associated ground control segment. The satellite will complement the existing French Syracuse 3 and Italian SICRAL-1/1B hardened secure satellites, and the SICRAL-2 program. It will employ DVB-RCS and DBV-S2 high performance civil communications standards, to enhance transmission capacity and service availability; speeds are expected to be over 1 GB/second, and possibly as high as 3 GB/s.
Based on a Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000 B2 platform, the Athena-Fidus satellite weighs about 3,800 kg/ 8,378 pounds at launch, with a design life exceeding 15 years. It carries 2 payloads, one each for France and Italy.
The satellite were scheduled for launch in 2013 by Arianespace, and they were launched successfully in early 2014. Ground control will be managed by Thales Alenia Space’s partner Telespazio. The contract will be managed by France’s DGA, in conjunction with France’s CNES, and Italy’s ASI space agencies.
The Athena-Fidus and Sicral-2 programs are the first European cooperative successes in the Milsatcom domain.
Contracts & Related Events
Feb 6/14: Launch. An Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket successfully launches Athena-Fidus into orbit from Kourou, French Guiana. The 3,800 kg Athena-Fidus payload was the 50th European defense satellite launched by Arianespace (now Airbus Defence & Space) over its history. Sources: Arianespace, “Ariane 5’s heavy-lift mission with ABS-2 and Athena-Fidus is an Arianespace “on the numbers” launch success” | French DGA, “Le satellite franco-italien Athena-Fidus est en orbite”.
Feb 9/10: Signing of the EUR 280 million Athena-Fidus satellite contract. France and Italy will each pay EUR 140 million. Reynald Seznec, Thales Alenia Space President and CEO:
“These partnerships enable the countries to share the fixed costs for the platform, launch service and ground segment, while addressing their specific needs via dedicated payloads… Our collaboration with Telespazio, via the Space Alliance, was a critical factor in our selection. We were able to combine the top skills in each country, in particular the industrial expertise of Thales Alenia Space and the service expertise of Telespazio.”
See: DGA release [in French] | Thales Group.
Feb 17/09: Vertical integration saves the day. The French Air Force’s SIDM UAV performs its maiden flight in Afghanistan, thanks to quick satellite bandwidth work by EADS Astrium. These UAVs requires 2 civil Ku-band satellite links: a low data rate link for ground station control, and a high data rate link for collected data (video, photos) during the flight. Unfortunately:
“…the extremely high demand for satellite communications capabilities from numerous defence ministries and the international media has exhausted capacity in Afghanistan. By analysing its portfolio of contracts with major international operators, Astrium Services was able to identify the only compatible satellite solution accessible in this region. Astrium then arranged with an operator for one of its satellites to be repositioned…”
EADS Astrium is providing the civil Ku-band satellite telecommunications, satellite link engineering, and a dedicated 24-hour support hotline. EADS.
June 22/06: CNES and ASI sign a preliminary agreement to begin studies of a joint, dual-use, broadband satellite program, ATHENA-FIDUS. CNES and ASI are co-managing and co-funding the project studies.
- CNES – Athena-Fidus
- ASI – ATHENA-Fidus: Dual system for telecommunication services
- Deagel – SICRAL
- Thales Group – SYRACUSE III, France’s new-generation military satcom system
- Forecast International (April 30/09) – French Defense Officials Could Scuttle Plans for Third Syracuse III
- Spaceflight Now (April 20/09) – Sea Launch deploys military spacecraft for Italy. SIRCAL-1B.
- Milsat Magazine (October 2007) – The European Dilemma: Communications Costs Versus Tactical Needs