France partners with CSIRO on space science project

Thursday, 21 July, 2016

The president of the French Government’s space agency, the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), today signed a cooperation agreement with the CSIRO covering the 2017 launch of a stratospheric scientific balloon research program from the NASA/CSIRO base in Alice Springs.

The PILOT telescope, co-developed by the CNES, weighs more than a tonne and is equipped with a primary mirror 1 m in diameter. It will be transported 40 km in altitude by a stratospheric balloon filled with 800,000 m3 of helium, where it will observe the section of the Milky Way visible only from the Southern Hemisphere — in particular, the centre of the galaxy. At the conclusion of its mission, the basket will separate from the balloon and will descend using a parachute.

This new agreement between the CNES and the CSIRO forms part of ongoing cooperation between France and Australia in astronomy and space science research, demonstrating the desire by the CNES to reinforce its space innovation and research partnerships with Australia. According to CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall, “The 2017 launch of the PILOT telescope from the Alice Springs base marks the beginning of a new type of partnership between Australia and France, going beyond the storing of CNES data.

“I am personally very impressed by Australia’s capacity to innovate in our field, which is what has led me to believe that this cooperation agreement could well lead to others,” Le Gall continued. “We have a lot of confidence this project will go well, based on the good relationships established through 30 years of successful partnership with Australia.”

“There been many extremely successful joint research projects conducted between Australia and France over the years — many of them involving CSIRO,” added Dr Ed Kruzins, CSIRO coordinator for the CNES/CSIRO Ballooning Program.

“We are extremely keen to continue developing our connection with CNES and collaborating closely on astrophysics and space science research as we look to the future. Our cooperation on the PILOT High Altitude Ballooning program is another step in that direction, and we look forward to a successful outcome of this collaborative space science research project between our two countries.”

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