Technological Exchange between France and the United States: Space Telecommunications (1960–1985)

Special Report: 2001, Satellites in Orbit
By Anne-Thérèse Nguyen


Between 1960 and 1985, France managed to fill part of the technological gap with the United States in the communication and space sectors. In order to explain this success, this article analyses the rationale of, and the interaction between, the policies followed on both sides of the Atlantic.
Space policies in France and in the United States result from a complex interaction between strategic, industrial and economic considerations.
The United States tried at the same time to maintain their strategic and economic monopoly and to co-operate with European countries in order to preserve their strategic relationship and limit the development of an independent European research with military objective. This policy enforced trough Intelsat, the National Security Action memorandum n° 338 and the several co-operations, for example, between NASA and CNET reached a turning point in 1974 when the United States agreed to launch the German and French satellite Symphonie 1 under the condition that it would not be used for commercial purpose.
As a consequence, France which had hesitated between co-operation and independent development, decided to launch a complete and independent program, at a national level and based on European cooperations. This strategy resulted in the creation of the ESA, the Ariane program, the participation to Eutelsat and lastly the achievement of a program of satellite communications. It turned to be successful with the launch of Telecom 1, built mainly by French companies and which used, as the American IBM satellite (SBS), the latest technologies (TDMA).
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