In 1996 CNES decided to start the development of the Proteus mini-satellite serie (Plate-forme Reconfigurable pour l'Observation, les Télécommunications et les Usages scientifiques: Reconfigurable Platform for Observation, Telecommunications and Scientific Uses) jointly with the Jason 1 satellite, first user of this series. It meets the needs for 500/700 kg satellites on low orbits for different scientific or application domains.
Unlike large space programs, this series of small satellites is essentially based on economic considerations. The main objective is to reduce the cost of the access to space and thus to favour the emergence of new missions.
After an industrial consultation with the national prime contractors, Aérospatiale Cannes (nowadays Thales Alenia Space) was selected as industrial prime contractor and a partnership with CNES was created for the development of the platform and the associated command control ground segment. An integrated team CNES/Alcatel realized the design of Proteus. Following the partnership agreement, Alcatel developed the platform and the associated satellite, and CNES kept the role of prime contractor for its own missions.
The launch of JASON 1, first Proteus satellite, on december 2001, the 7th, successfully finalized the initial step of the series' development. This satellite, realized in co-operation with NASA and successor of TOPEX/POSEIDON, still operates nominally in orbit to the satisfaction of the users of the altimetry data. It enabled to verify the 3-years orbital lifetime specified to Proteus.
Since then, several other missions have been developed and have profited from the know-how acquired during the generic development. The latest mission launched is SMOS which is a mission realized in co-operation with ESA, CNES and CDTI.
Moreover, extending the small satellite step to the micro-satellite series, CNES has also begun since 1998 the Myriade series.