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The Diamant rocket launched the first French satellite on November 26, 1965, making France the third country after the USSR and USA with an access to the Earth orbit.
In 1960, President Charles 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. The agency reported to the Minister Delegate in Charge of Scientific Research, Atomic and Space Affairs and was ultimately supervised by the Prime Minister. (174)
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.
The agreement between CNES and DMA on the development of the rocket was signed on May 9, 1962. CNES and DMA contracted the technical task of developing the Diamant launcher to the newly created industrial conglomerate known as SEREB (Societe d'Etude et de Realisation des Engins Balistiques).
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. In addition to bringing French nation into the Space Age, the "precious stones" series paved the way to the creation of operational silo-based and submarine-based ballistic missiles. (223, 224)
Diamant rockets lacked guidance system, however first and second stages were equipped flight control gear. The third stage was spin-stabilized and small thrusters consuming pressurized nitrogen would be used to maintain its attitude parallel to the Earth horizon during the flight.
Known specifications of the Diamant family of launchers (174):
The Diamant A launcher. Click to enlarge: 400 x 300 pixels / 32K Copyright: © 2005 Anatoly Zak
The launch of the Diamant A rocket from Hammaguir, Algeria. Credit: Aerospatiale
Aerial view of the Diamant launch complex in Hammaguir, Algeria. Credit: CNES
The D-1A Diapason satellite is shown during pre-launch tests in Hammaguir, Algeria. It became the third French satellite after its successful launch by the Diamant A rocket on February 17, 1966. Credit: CNES
The Diamant rocket on the launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana. Credit: CNES
Scaled model of the launch complex for the Diamant rocket in Kourou. Click to enlarge: 400 by 300 pixels / 32K Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak