An Arianespace Vega rocket launched three French military satellites into Earth orbit from a South American spaceport Tuesday (Nov. 16) in a stunning morning early launch.
The Vega rocket launched three CERES satellites (short for "Capacité de Renseignement d'origine Electromagnétique Spatiale," which translates to "Intelligence Capacity of Space Electromagnetic Origin") at 4:27 a.m. EST (0927 GMT). from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, where the local time was 6:27 a.m.
"This mission shows the exceptional versatility of the Vega launcher," Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said in a statement (opens in new tab). "Our light launcher had already orbited two satellites for the Pleiades Neo constellation for Airbus this year, along with nine auxiliary payloads, and today we continue this string with three CERES satellites."
I’ll never get tired of this… #VV20 @Arianespace @CNES @DGA @Avio_Group @Armee_de_lair @Armees_Gouv @AirbusSpace @ESA @EuropeSpacePort pic.twitter.com/YhrUNHafWpNovember 16, 2021
Using high-performance sensors, the military satellites will locate and characterize transmitters used for enemy communications and radar emitters. The three CERES satellites will fly in formation, circling Earth in a sun-synchronous orbit, or a nearly polar orbit in which the satellites pass over the same location at approximately the same time every day.
"The objective of the CERES (CapacitÉ de Renseignement Électromagnétique Spatiale) military electronic intelligence mission is to gather signals intelligence from areas that surface sensors cannot reach, free from airspace overflight constraints and in all weathers, thus providing an in-depth situational picture to support conception and execution of military operations," the French space agency CNES said in a mission description (opens in new tab). "Signals collected by each satellite will be combined to precisely locate detected communication systems."
Tuesday's launch marked the third Vega launch of 2021 and the 12th mission this year for the European launch provider Arianespace. The previous Vega launch on Aug. 16 sent a new Earth observation satellite and four small cubesats into sun-synchronous orbits.
The next time Arianespace launches a mission from French Guiana will be on Dec. 18, when the company's Ariane 5 rocket is scheduled to launch the James Webb Space Telescope for NASA.
Editor's note: This story, originally posted on Nov. 15, has been updated to reflect the successful launch of Vega's CERES mission for the French military.