In the Spotlight

Jason-3 shipped to launch site

In the Spotlight

Jason-3 shipped to launch site

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    The Jason-3 operational oceanographic satellite left Thales Alenia Space's Cannes plant on June 17th 2015 and arrived at the Vandenberg Air Force Base space center in California on June 18th. Built by Thales Alenia Space within the scope of a quadripartite agreement between Eumetsat, NOAA, and the French (CNES) and American (NASA) space agencies, the satellite will be launched in the coming months, using a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher. French space agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) is satellite prime contractor, and Thales Alenia Space is the industrial architect.

    Jason-3 mission

    Jason 3 will provide operational continuity for the high-precision oceanographic topography measurements delivered by Topex-Poseidon, Jason 1, and Jason-2, still operational in orbit. It will provide the same accuracy as Jason-2 for oceanic measurements, including coastal zones, as well as lakes and other bodies of water. The satellite will be placed in the same orbit as Jason-2, at an altitude of 1,336 km, inclined 66°, to provide virtually totally coverage of all ice-free ocean areas. Weighing 553 kg at launch, Jason-3 offers 550 W of electrical power and pointing precision to within 0.15°.

    Thales Alenia Space's contribution to Jason-3

    As industrial architect for Jason-3, Thales Alenia Space built the Proteus platform, and its Toulouse plant developed the Poseidon-3B altimeter, the key instrument in this spaceborne observation system. The French-Italian joint venture is also responsible for the assembly integration and testing (AIT) of the satellite, as well as checking its "health" before it is encapsulated at the launch site.

    Thales Alenia Space and oceanography

    Oceanography is one of Thales Alenia Space's core businesses. The company's expertise in altimetry, radar imaging and multispectral optical instruments is recognized worldwide. Thales Alenia Space has been the world leader in space-based altimetry since the early 1990s, fostering a number of international collaborations in this field. The latest oceanographic contract was in January 2015, with the SWOT program for CNES and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in California.

    Thales Alenia Space's track record in oceanography includes production of the following:

    • Poseidon altimeters on the Topex-Poseidon, Jason 1, 2 and 3 missions for CNES.
    • The AltiKa Ka-band altimeter for Saral, a Franco-Indian oceanographic satellite.
    • Siral 2, an SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) interferometry type very-high-resolution altimeter, carried on ESA's CryoSat-2 satellite, capable of measuring changes in the thickness of sea ice, and also the mass budget of land ice, to an unprecedented degree of precision.
    • SRAL SAR altimeters on Sentinel-3.
    • Two "water color" multispectral optical instruments, Meris (on Envisat) and OLCI, on Sentinel-3.

    Thales Alenia Space and environmental management


    Thales Alenia Space is the European leader in climate change monitoring, with a pivotal position in environmental initiatives. The company was also a key player in ensuring the transition of space-based oceanography to operational status.

    The gigantic system of currents affecting our oceans on the surface and below entails huge energy transfers around the planet, and may be considered one of the major engines driving the Earth's climate. The Poseidon family of altimeters has played a vital role in identifying and understanding this phenomenon.

    The Thales Alenia Space-built SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) satellite was launched in November 2009, and regularly supplied maps of sea salinity. The CryoSat satellite carries a one-of-a-kind instrument – the Siral radar-interferometry altimeter – capable of measuring the thickness of ice sheets, and calculating the mass budget of continental ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland.

    Thales Alenia Space is at the forefront of the new generation of satellites designed to carry on the monitoring of the water cycle at a planetary scale. It also plays a leading role in the European Space Agency's Copernicus program. The company is indeed prime contractor for the Sentinel-1 and -3 missions (each including 2 satellites), and will also provide the ground segment on the second mission, and two instruments for Sentinel-6.

    Thales Alenia Space is also contributing to the SWOT mission by developing the nadir altimeter in the Poseidon-3 series, along with the RFU, a key electronics subsystem for the KaRin interferometry SAR instrument.

    Over the last quarter-century, Thales Alenia Space has always been in the forefront of efforts to meet environmental challenges, spanning both meteorology and oceanography. The company is also a world leader in high-performance optics and radar payloads, for both civil and military applications.

    Three satellites dedicated to the climate and the environment will be launched this year, all built by Thales Alenia Space: MSG-4, Jason-3 and Sentinel 3A.