A-1 was the first French satellite, launched on 26 November 1965 from the soon-to-close Hammaguir launch site in Algeria (which had gained independence from French rule a few years earlier).
The original designation of A-1 was later changed in honour of the cartoon character, Asterix (although it had almost been called Zebulon or Zebby, after a puppet from the telelvision show The Magic Roundabout).
With the launch of Asterix, France became the third country to launch its own satellite, and the sixth to have a satellite in orbit (the UK, Canada and Italy had satellites launched previously on American rockets).
Asterix had been developed as part of a kind of internal French space race. It was built and launched just ten days before the FR-1 satellite was launched on an American Scout rocket.
Weighing 42 kilograms, the satellite was a distinctive striped fibreglass spinning-top shape half a meter in diameter, the black stripes to provide passive thermal control.
Intended to test the French Diamant rocket as well as take measurements of the ionosphere, the satellite unfortunately transmitted for just two days (alternate reports suggest that it failed to transmit altogether).
Asterix-1 is still in orbit today and is expected to remain there for centuries to come.
Filed under: Artefacts