The CEO of the National Center for Space Studies, Philippe Baptiste, told AFP that he wanted to “find solutions to address certain legitimate concerns” within the agency, which has nearly 2,400 employees (Toulouse, Paris and Kourou) .

On April 14, more than 600 employees of the Toulouse site went on strike against the “objective and performance contract (COP)” just signed between the State and the public establishment.

A walkout of a few hours, but “historic” for a company filled with executives and engineers, generally reluctant to strike”, says Julien Anxionnat, CFDT delegate. And the mobilization continues with GAs, petitions, workshops “rewrite” of the COP…

– “The water drop” –

The formalization of the contract, renewed every five years, was the “drop of water that broke the camel’s back”, underlines the trade unionist, in a context of concern dating back to the summer of 2020?: CNES, historically attached to the Ministry of Research, then came under the main supervision of the Economy and Finance.

By transferring the space issue to Bercy, President Emmanuel Macron “broken with a multi-decade vision driven by General De Gaulle”, who created CNES 60 years ago, wrote a collective of employees last week, in a forum in the world.

As already moved by eminent French scientists (Jean Jouzel, Serge Haroche, Françoise Combes, Yves Coppens…), these employees fear that the French space sector will turn away from scientific research in favor of the industrial dimension alone, to “catch up” with the American Space X and make more room for start-ups, according to the roadmap drawn up by Bruno Le Maire at the end of 2021.

“The government wants to distribute public money to industrialists – preferably start-ups – to support more or less technically serious initiatives, without a long-term vision, and without relying on the know-how of CNES” , regrets the collective supported by the inter-union.

– “To do” –

He cites the “gigantic” amount – 1.5 billion euros – of the space component of the “France 2030” plan, the execution of which “Bercy has entrusted to the Public Investment Bank” for the benefit of the “new space” sector. ” (a term designating the explosion in the number of private actors on the world spatial chessboard).

“We cannot miss an ecosystem that is exploding. To miss the new space train would be to bury the CNES”, pleaded Philippe Baptiste.

But for the employees, “it’s unpleasant to see that there is a lot of money whose color we will not see”, gets carried away Denis Carbonne, CGT representative. And the “COP” drives the point home according to him, since the State “asks us to be less observant on the technical part when we sign contracts with the private sector … it devitalizes us”.

“We have nothing against helping start-ups”, comments Julien Anxionnat, but it is the very philosophy of the COP that poses a problem “because it requires us to do more than to do”.

With this new roadmap, according to them, CNES risks becoming “a simple funding agency” dispossessed of its historical know-how, the one that launched the Ariane program, the Pléiades Neo satellites, the SuperCam camera on Mars…

“Today we no longer have a big project,” sighs an employee from Toulouse, on condition of anonymity. Some have also stopped, such as C3IEL, a micro-satellite in cooperation with Israel.

However, “the level of activity has never been so high”, underlines the CEO, citing “incredible” missions in the pipes such as the MicroCarb Earth observation satellites or SWOT with NASA….

But these are at the end of the race, and Philippe Baptiste concedes that he “misses two or three big emblematic missions” preparing well in advance.

At the helm since 2021, the CEO has full confidence in the future of the agency and its “crucial” dual scientific and technical role. “Our know-how is unique, no industrialist will commit to making a seismometer on Mars; we are!”.