Airbus Defence and Space

Security & Defence All programmes


Keeping watch against the ballistic missile threat

In January 2004, the French MoD awarded Airbus Defence and Space a contract for the study, the development, the launch and the operations of the SPIRALE programme. The SPIRALE mission includes the collection of infrared Earth background images and the demonstration of the future system capabilities in missile detection, tracking and identification.

The SPIRALE system is based on two 120kg-class micro-satellites operating in a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). This elliptical orbit allows the SPIRALE satellites in low altitudes to collect high-resolution Earth background images and at the apogee to touch the geostationary orbit in order to be subject to the same conditions for observation as the future system.  

The two satellites were launched by Ariane 5 on 12 February 2009. The launch early operations and in-orbit tests were executed in the nominal schedule of one and half months.

The Earth background collection has delivered more ‘lessons learnt’ than expected during the two years of exploitation.

Through the success of this demonstration, which is unique in Europe, SPIRALE is paving the way for a future space-based early warning system.