Arianespace Launches Spy Satellite for France on Soyuz Rocket

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket successfully launched a new reconnaissance satellite into orbit for France Wednesday (Dec. 19), the first of a new constellation of spy satellites for the French military. 

Arianespace launched the Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the South American spaceport of Guiana Space Centre to deliver the CSO-1 Earth-observation satellite into orbit for France's Ministry of Defense, the French space agency (CNES) and the country's defense procurement agency (DGA). Liftoff occurred at 11:37 a.m. EST (1637 GMT) after it was delayed by one day due to bad weather.

"The orbiting of CSO-1 shows once again how CNES is working effectively with the Ministry of Armed Forces to develop and operate its space systems," CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall said in a statement. [Declassified US Spy Satellites in Photos]

An Arianespace Soyuz rocket launches the French military reconnaissance satellite CSO-1 into orbit from Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana on Dec. 19, 2018. (Image credit: Arianespace)

The CSO-1 satellite (its name is short for Composante Spatiale Optique, French for "Optical Space Component") is the first of a three-spacecraft constellation of military observation satellites for France's ministry of defense. The satellite weighs 7,861 pounds (3,566 kilograms) and will be used for reconnaissance during its 10-year mission lifetime, according to an Arianespace description. Wednesday's Soyuz launch placed CSO-1 in an initial sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 497 miles (800 kilometers) above Earth.

"Once at its final orbital location, CSO-1 will be used to take 3D pictures and to acquire very-high-resolution images in the visible and infrared bandwidths, day or night and in fair weather, and using a variety of imaging modes to meet as many operational requirements as possible," Arianespace representatives said in a statement.

An artist's illustration of the French military reconnaissance satellite CSO-1 in orbit. (Image credit: French Ministry of Defense)

A second CSO satellite will also be used for reconnaissance, while the third will serve a target identification role, the European launch provider said. Airbus Defense and Space built the CSO-1 satellite for the French military. 

Wednesday's launch marked the 11th mission of 2018 for Arianespace and its 20th Soyuz launch overall under an agreement with Russia's space agency Roscosmos. It was also the second space mission of the day, following the successful launch of the GSAT-7A communications satellite  by the Indian Space Research Organisation. 

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket is also scheduled to launch Wednesday evening to deliver a U.S. spy satellite into orbit from California's Vandenberg Air Force Station. And top it all off, a Roscosmos Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled to return three crewmembers home from the International Space Station overnight. 

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.