Site map

Site update log

About this site

About the author



Searching for details:

The author of this page will greatly appreciate comments, eyewitness accounts, documents and imagery related to the subject. Please contact Anatoly Zak.

In the meantime:

(Historical context for the events described in this section):

1958 April: the French nuclear programme advances far enough for Félix Gaillard, then President of the Atomic Energy Commission to sign a top-secret order to make all necessary preparations "for the first series of atomic explosions to take place in the first quarter of 1960."

1958 June: Charles de Gaulle returns to power in France, quickly ordering the creation of "Force de Frappe," or strike force, including a nuclear "triad:" a long-range bombers, land-based ballistic missiles and ballistic missile submarines.

1960 February: France conducts its first nuclear test at Reggane (in the Sahara)

HISTORY: Rocket development program in France (1941-1979)

Genesis of the French rocketry and space program

A legend has it that at the beginning of the 20th century Russian pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky debated future of space exploration with French aviator Robert Esnault-Pelterie in the presense of the Czar. Although both "participants" of the "debate" later refuted the story, Esnault-Pelterie, who started his career by building the first monoplane aircraft, went on to pioneer rocket development in France.

"Precious Stones" and other research rockets

In 1958, Charles de Gaulle, the hero of the anti-Nazi resistance movement during World War II, returned to power in France. His ascent to presidency was backdropped by Soviet victories in the race with the United States to reach the outer space. In the face of the Soviet technological and military prowess, Gaullists argued, France would be too naive in depending on the United States for protection. As a result, de Gaulle committed the nation to full technological independence from the United States, including complex and expensive fields of nuclear technology and rocketry.

Diamant: Into space

In 1960, de Gaulle proclaimed French goals to reach space. Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, CNES, was formed on March 1, 1962, with the task of planning and executing the French space program. Along with military-run Ministerial Delegation for Armaments, DMA, CNES funded development of a series of rockets named after precious stones and culminating with the Diamant, (Diamond) -- the first French space launcher. On November 26, 1965, the Diamant rocket orbited the first French satellite, the A-1, following a successful launch from Hammaguir test site in Algeria.

Force Nucleaire Strategique: France's nuclear deterrent

A second military budget act of the de Gaulle presidency, covering the period 1966-1970, financed the construction of two new nuclear submarines with underwater-launched ballistic missiles, as well as the deployment of strategic ballistic surface-to-surface missiles in silos on the plateau d'Albion, in Provence. Both systems became operational in 1971. In addition to the "triad," General de Gaulle decided in 1963 that France should follow the US example in deploying its own tactical nuclear weapons, including atomic bombs carried by Mirage III and Jaguar aircraft, and Pluton tactical nuclear missiles, which were brought into service after 1970.


Overview of the French rocketry:

Name Status Description
Experimental and research rockets
EA 1941 1946 A research rocket
Eole (EA 1951) 1952 A research rocket developed during 1946-1952
Veronique 1959 Research rocket developed since 1949
Vesta 1959 Research rocket with the engine developing 16,000 kg of thrust
Agate - -
Topaze - -
Emeraude - -
Saphir 1965 Oct. 9 15 launches, 13 successful (174)
Rubis - Solid propellant rocket
Launch vehicles
Diamant A - -
Diamant B 1970 March 10 Launched Germany's DIAL satellite
Diamant BP4 - -
Regent Mid-1960s Project of the vehicle capable of delivering 1.3 tons to a 500-kilometer orbit. (227) It would use a 30-ton (P30) solid booster as a first stage and two upper stages similar to those of Diamant B. (226)
Mercure - Project (226)
Carmen - Project
Vulcain - Project
Bacchus - Project
Diogène - Project
Orion - Project
Turquoise - Project
Ballistic missiles
Deployed 1971
Silo-based two-stage missile with a nuclear warhead. First launch from silo in 1966.
500-kt nuclear warhead
Thermo-nuclear warhead
Thermo-nuclear warhead
MIRV with penetration aids
Tactical missiles
BTZ-411-01 1960s Bazooka-type missile (148)
ENTAC 1960s Anti-tank missile manufactured until 1974 (225)
SS-10 1947 Anti-tank missile manufactured until 1962 (225)
SS-11 1954 Anti-tank missile, mass-produced from 1956 to end-1970s. (225)
SS-22 1960s Anti-tank missile
X422 1960s Scramjet-powered Mach 2 cruise missile capable of flying 50 meters above ground
Pluton After 1970 -
Air-to-air missiles
AA-10 (5101) from 1946 A wire-guided liquid-propellant (!) missile based on German X-4. Unsuccessful. (225)
AA-20 1950s Radio-guided, solid-propelled; derived from AA-10 (225)
5102 1951 -
5103 1952 Radio-guided, solid-propelled; derived from AA-20. Mass-produced from 1956 (225)
M/04 1950s -
R-051 (AAM) R510 1951 Developed by Matra from 1949 (225)
1524 1950s -
Air-to-ground missiles
1522 - Developed by SNCASE, later Sud-Aviation
Maruca 1960s Navy
Masalca 1960s Navy
Parca 1960s Army
SE-4300 1960s Army
Target drones
CT-10 1950s -
CT-20 1950s -
ECA-20 1950s Test drone
ECA-26 1950s Test drone
Rocket-powered aircraft
2026 1950s SNCASO
9000 1950s -
Durandel 1950s -
Espadon 1950s -
Griffon 1950s -
Harpon 1950s -
Mirage III 1950s -
MD-550 1950s -
Trident 2 1950s Powered by SEPR rocket enginer and two Viper wing-tip jets. Broke world speed record and Frenach altitude record.