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AsterX: another role for Safran in Star Wars


What if the world were to enter a space war? What if the threat to render satellite systems inoperable was suddenly carried out? This sci-fi scenario is not the plot of the next George Lucas movie, but a real exercise in which our space forces are training: AsterX. Explore Safran’s role through this highly-realistic simulation.

AterX 2024 : simulation de guerre spatiale de haute intensité

AsterX, a high-intensity space war simulation

From March 4 to 15, the French Air and Space Force underwent military training in which various space-related crisis scenarios were simulated. This was a full-scale exercise “inspired by current and future threats” and “which covers the entire scope of space war,” indicated the French Air and Space Force at the time. 

Created in 2021, this unprecedented exercise in Europe was dubbed AsterX, a reference to the first French satellite launched in 1965, named “Asterix”. It is also a nod to the well-known French comic book series protagonist… But, in this case, the battle isn’t between the Romans and the Gauls: rather, the mission consists of assessing the capacity of armed forces and their allies to protect satellite fleets and provide surveillance in an increasingly militarized space environment.

As such, more than 140 participants, including members of the French Armed Forces (Land, Air, Navy, Cyber), as well as civilians (satellite operators, cybersecurity experts, engineers and scientists) have been mobilized. A total of 15 allied countries, including Germany, Belgium, Italy and the United States, were also involved. The program included 23 space events designed to deal, in a coordinated fashion and in real time, with 14 different types of threat affecting all areas and fields of conflict.

Safran’s expertise in satellite observation

Safran was invited to take part in the exercise as one of a very select group of manufacturers, through Safran Data Systems: “As a global industry leader in the space surveillance sector, we belong to the select group of companies that have a headquarters,” explains Thierry Balanche, Director of Data and Information Services Sales. “The French Space Command has shown great trust and recognition in our company.”

Among the seven Safran Data Systems employees located in Toulouse, Baptiste Guillot and Maxime Pognon, Steredenn Daumont and Cyril Targat have integrated the team of “players”. In addition to taking part in the simulation exercise, their goal was to illustrate the efficiency of the WeTrack and WeWatch systems developed by Safran Data Systems. Through the passive analysis of radiofrequencies, these systems detect, characterize and track both friendly and enemy satellites. As such, they help build a tactical and strategic vision of the space situation. With WeTrack, the position of satellites is precisely determined, thus enabling the early detection of potentially threatening maneuvers. WeWatch detects events ahead of time. “It’s in this matter that our unique capacity truly shines: we were able to detect interference in one of the scenarios,” specifies Steredenn Daumont, Head of WeWatch Product Development. 

Being in direct contact with the Armed Forces that use Safran systems also provides us with invaluable feedback for product development. “One of our major challenges consists of designing a product that is quickly understood by operational staff. Our aim is to apply our technical excellence to the realities of the field, and demonstrate that we have an operational mindset that’s in line with the forces. Our military customers use our systems to make very rapid decisions”, indicates Philippe de Mijolla, VP Sales & Marketing, Space and Spectrum Surveillance at Safran Data Systems.

AsterX therefore also serves as an opportunity to put Safran products to the test, in the hope that in this context, they will continue to play a leading role in the fictional space war scenario.

Behind the scenes
The AsterX simulation took five months to design! Originally designed back in October, it required three iterations to ensure that the systems would properly be integrated into a large simulation ecosystem. The French Space Command, the CNES and ONERA respectively developed the scenarios, and transformed them into reliable, usable data, before finally producing a realistic, full-scale simulation exercise. This was an outstanding feat, requiring both precision and coordination!