Last updated
Diamant P6230215.JPG
FunctionSmall launch vehicle
Manufacturer SEREB
Country of originFrance
  • A: 18.95 m (62.2 ft)
  • B: 23.5 m (77 ft)
  • BP4: 21.6 m (71 ft)
Diameter1.34 m (4 ft 5 in)
Mass18,400 kg (40,600 lb)
Payload to LEO
Mass160 kg (350 lb)
Launch history
Launch sitesA: Hammaguir
B/BP4: Kourou
Total launches12 (A :4, B: 5, BP4: 3)
Success(es)9 (A: 3, B: 3, BP4: 3)
Failure(s)3 (A: 1, B: 2)
First flightA: 26 November 1965
B:10 March 1970
BP4:6 February 1975
Last flightA: 15 February 1967
B:21 May 1973
BP4: 27 September 1975
First stage (Diamant A) – Emeraude
Engines1 Vexin B
Thrust301.55 kN (67,790 lbf)
Specific impulse 203 s (1.99 km/s)
Burn time93 seconds
Propellant Nitric Acid/Turpentine
First stage (Diamant B/BP4) – Améthyste
Engines1 Valois  [ fr ]
Thrust396.52 kN (89,140 lbf)
Specific impulse 221 s (2.17 km/s)
Burn time110 seconds
Propellant N2O4/UDMH
Second stage (Diamant A/B) – Topaze
Motor1 P2.2
Thrust120.082 kN (26,996 lbf)
Specific impulse 255 s (2.50 km/s)
Burn time39 seconds
Propellant Solid
Second stage (Diamant BP4) – P-4/Rita
Motor1 P-4
Thrust176 kN (40,000 lbf)
Specific impulse 273 s (2.68 km/s)
Burn time55 seconds
Propellant Solid
Third stage (Diamant A) – P-064
Motor1 P-064
Thrust29.4 kN (6,600 lbf)
Specific impulse 211 s (2.07 km/s)
Burn time39 seconds
Propellant Solid
Third stage (Diamant B/BP4) – P-068
Motor1 P-068
Thrust50 kN (11,000 lbf)
Specific impulse 211 s (2.07 km/s)
Burn time46 seconds
Propellant Solid

The Diamant rocket (Diamant is French for "diamond") was the first exclusively French expendable launch system and at the same time the first satellite launcher not built by either the United States or USSR. As such, it has been referred to as being a key predecessor for all subsequent European launcher projects.


During 1962, development of the Diamant commenced as the inaugural spacecraft project of France's space agency, the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES). As a project, it was derived from the military program Pierres précieuses (fr.: gemstones) that included the five prototypes Agate, Topaze, Emeraude, Rubis and Saphir (Agate, Topaz, Emerald, Ruby and Sapphire), and drew heavily upon the knowledge and technologies that had been previously developed. On 26 November 1965, the Diamant A performed its maiden flight. Out of a total of 12 launch attempts to be performed between 1965 and 1975, 9 of these were successful. Most notably, on 26 November 1965, the Diamant was used to successfully launch the first French satellite, named Astérix.

Three successive versions of the Diamant rocket were developed, designated A, B and BP4. All versions had three stages and a payload of approximately 150 kg for a 200 km orbit. Despite the success of the Diamant as a launcher, France ultimately chose to terminate further work on its national launcher program in favor of participation in the multi-European programme to produce what would become the Ariane launcher in 1975.



During the late 1940s and 1950s, substantial interest arose amongst the international powers of the era in the development of rocketry and missile technology, in particular the prospects for ballistic missiles capable of travelling great distances. Both of the emergent superpowers of the time, the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) chose to invest heavily within this new field, observing its political and military importance; it was not long before a highly competitive atmosphere emerged where neither entity wished to fall behind the other in missile technology, which directly led to the so-called 'space race'. [1] In addition, other nations also sought to make headway with this technology, often seeking to exploit and build upon knowledge which had been acquired from Nazi Germany's V2 programme. In western Europe, both the United Kingdom and France began making significant early steps in this field. [1] [2]

While Britain forged ahead with programmes such as the Black Knight ballistic missile demonstrator and the military-orientated Blue Steel missile programme, France also made progress on its own efforts. [3] During 1949, the French government established the Laboratoire de Recherches Balistiques et Aérodynamiques at Vernon, outside Paris, for the purpose of pursuing its own military-focused ballistic missiles programmes. The agency initially conducted relatively straightforward and cost-conscious programmes, such as the development of the V2-based Veronique liquid-fuelled rocket in cooperation with a number of German scientists, which first flew during 1954. [4] During 1957, having been suitably encouraged by the progress made, the Comité d'Action Scientifique de Défense Nationale (CASDN) decided to finance further refinements of the Veronique rocket. [5]

During 1958, French wartime military leader Charles de Gaulle became President of France, establishing the Fifth Republic. [5] De Gaulle, who was openly keen to develop a capable and fully independent French nuclear deterrent, determined that French-built missiles could comprise a potent element of the French military's fledgling nuclear arsenal, known as the Force de frappe; further impetus in favour of missile development was generated by the Sputnik crisis, a fear that other powers were falling behind the Soviet Union's progress in missile development, which had been provoked by the USSR's success with Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite to be successfully orbited. [5] A greatly expanded and renewed framework for missile-related development was promptly issued alongside generous government support for scientific research; specifically, the new efforts covered technologies such as intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missile, and reconnaissance satellites. [5]

Emergence and success

During 1959, the French government established the Comité de Recherches Spatiales (CRS), which would later be renamed as the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES). [5] The newly formed CRS, initially chaired by the French physicist Pierre Auger, was tasked with the coordination of all French research efforts in the field of space. From an early stage, the organisation's primary goal was to pursue the development of an indigenous expendable launch system with which payloads, such as satellites, could be launched into orbit. [5] The indigenous launcher, which was promptly named Diamant, drew heavily from the military ballistic missile programmes which had preceded it; as such, much of the rocket's design was based upon these early missiles. [5]

On 26 November 1965, the first Diamant rocket was fired from its launch site, the CIEES testing range, at Hammaguir, Bechar Province, French Algeria. [6] This maiden flight was deemed to be a success, achieving sufficient altitude and launching French's first satellite, a 42 kg test vehicle known as Astérix, into orbit; this feat has been viewed as cementing France as the third space power in the world, as well as affirming its independence and strategic capabilities. During 1966 and 1967, Diamant was used to launch three French-built scientific satellites. [5] On 9 April 1968, the Guiana Space Centre, France's new national launching complex at Kourou, French Guiana, was officially declared to be operational; Diamant launches were subsequently shifted to this facility, along with various other missiles in use by France and, later on, other European nations as well. [7]

On 10 March 1970, the first Diamant B rocket, an improved model of the launcher, was fired, carrying a pair of scientific satellite, named DIAL/MIKA and DIAL/WIKA, into orbit. [5] Only one of the two satellites, which had been produced as a collaborative effort between France and Germany to study the Van Allen radiation belt around the Earth, survived the launch process. [8] [9] Overall, the Diamant rocket came to be recognised as a successful and reliable launch vehicle, competitive amongst even the best of its international competitors throughout the world during its time. [10]

Successor and discontinuation

While Diamant had proven to be a viable and reliable launcher, the sheer size of the American and Soviet space programmes far exceeded what would be realistically achievable not only by France but by any of the independent nations of western Europe. [2] As this realisation became prevalent, it was also recognised that cooperative efforts between nations and a new generation of international programmes would enable these nations to play a much greater and significant role in space exploration. Early collaborative programmes, such as the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) and European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), bore mixed results but showed the promise of such endeavours, thus a greater emphasis was placed upon international efforts on the topic of space. [2]

As a consequence of Britain's withdrawal from participation in the ELDO, it was decided to replace the British-built Blue Streak, which comprised the first stage of the organisation's multinational launcher, known as Europa, with the French-built Diamant taking its place. [11] All work on the Europa programme was terminated only a few years later due to the high failure rate encountered. Meanwhile, Britain decided to focus its efforts on the indigenous Black Arrow launcher instead.

During 1974, the European Space Agency (ESA) was founded for this purpose; the ESA effectively enabled the competing and overlapping national space programmes to be succeeded by a single organised multinational framework with work shared between the member states instead. [2] Specifically, in 1976, work commenced on the new collaborative Ariane 1 launcher, the first version of what would become the highly successful Ariane family. The existence of the Ariane programme, a rival launcher to the earlier Diamant rocket, effectively replaced the demand for and the role of France's indigenous launcher, rendering it obsolete and redundant in comparison. France ultimately decided to discontinue further launches using Diamant in favour of the newer Ariane platform. [2]


Diamant A

Diamant A seen from the fairing in Musee de l'Air Fusee Dimant A musee du Bourget P1010586.JPG
Diamant A seen from the fairing in Musée de l'Air

This was the first version of the Diamant rocket. Remarkably for a newly developed system, all of the first four launches attempted launched were partly successful, the only failure occurring on the second launch when the payload was inserted into a lower orbit than planned. It possessed a first stage of 10 m, 1.4 metres in diameter, and a weight of 14.7 metric tons. Their engines of the type LRBA Vexin supplied a thrust of 269 kN for 93 seconds. The second stage was 4.7 metres long and had a diameter of 80 centimetres. It weighed 2.9 metric tons and developed a thrust of 165 kN for a duration of 44 seconds. The third stage is 2.65 m long and weighed 709 kilograms. It burned for 45 seconds and developed a thrust of 27 kN to 53 kN. Completely installed, a Diamant A was 18.95 metres high and weighed 18.4 metric tons.

Diamant B

An improved version of the Diamant A with a more powerful first stage. Five satellite launches were attempted between 1970 and 1973, of which the last two failed. All launches took place from Kourou in French Guyana.

Its first stage was 14.2 meters long, had a diameter of 1.4 meters and weighed 20.1 metric tons. Its engine developed a thrust of 316 kN to 400 kN (depending on flight altitude) for 116 seconds. The second stage was carried over from Diamant A without modification. The third stage was 1.67 meters long and had a diameter of 80 centimeters. It developed a thrust of 24 kN for 46 seconds. Completely assembled, a Diamant B was 23.5 meters high and weighed 24.6 metric tons.

Diamant BP4

This version incorporated a new second stage, while carrying the first and third stages over from its predecessor. It performed three successful launches in 1975, putting a total of four satellites into orbit. Its second stage, which was derived from the MSBS rocket, was 2.28 metres long and 1.5 metres in diameter and developed a thrust of 180 kN for 55 seconds.

Launch history

Diamant flights
Date (UTC)VariantPayloadLaunch siteOutcomeNotes
November 26, 1965
Diamant AAsterix CIEES/Hammaguir Success
February 17, 1966
Diamant ADiapasonHammaguirSuccess
February 8, 1967
Diamant ADiadème 1HammaguirPartial failureOrbit lower than planned
February 15, 1967
Diamant ADiadème 2HammaguirSuccess
March 10, 1970
Diamant BMika / Wika Kourou Success
December 12, 1970
Diamant BPéoleKourouSuccess
April 15, 1971
Diamant BTournesolKourouSuccess
December 5, 1971
Diamant BPolaireKourouFailureSecond stage failure
May 21, 1973
Diamant BCastor / PolluxKourouFailureFairing separation failure
February 6, 1975
Diamant BP4StarletteKourouSuccess
May 17, 1975
Diamant BP4Castor / PolluxKourouSuccess
September 27, 1975
Diamant BP4AuraKourouSuccess

See also

Related Research Articles

Blue Streak (missile)

The de Havilland Propellers Blue Streak was a British Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), and later the first stage of the Europa satellite launch vehicle. Blue Streak was cancelled without entering full production.

Expendable launch system Launch system that uses an expendable launch vehicle

An expendable launch system is a launch vehicle that can be launched only once, after which its components are either destroyed during reentry or discarded in space. ELVs typically consist of several rocket stages that are discarded sequentially as their fuel is exhausted and the vehicle gains altitude and speed. As of October 2019, most satellites and human spacecraft are currently launched on ELVs. ELVs are simpler in design than reusable launch systems and therefore may have a lower production cost. Furthermore, an ELV can use its entire fuel supply to accelerate its payload, offering greater payloads. ELVs are proven technology in widespread use for many decades.

Timeline of rocket and missile technology

This article gives a concise timeline of rocket and missile technology.

Ariane (rocket family) Family of European medium- and heavy-lift rocket launch vehicles

Ariane is a series of a European civilian expendable launch vehicles for space launch use. The name comes from the French spelling of the mythological character Ariadne. France first proposed the Ariane project and it was officially agreed upon at the end of 1973 after discussions between France, Germany and the UK. The project was Western Europe's second attempt to develop its own launcher following the unsuccessful Europa project. The Ariane project was code-named L3S.

Ariane 4 Rocket

The Ariane 4 was a European expendable space launch system, developed by the Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES), the French space agency, for the European Space Agency (ESA). It was manufactured by ArianeGroup and marketed by Arianespace. Since its first flight on 15 June 1988 until the final flight on 15 February 2003, it attained 113 successful launches out of 116 total launches.

Europa (rocket)

The Europa rocket was an early expendable launch system of the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO), which was the precursor to the European Space Agency (ESA). It was developed with the aim to delivering space access technology, and more specifically to facilitate the deployment of European-wide telecommunication and meteorological satellites into orbit.

Soyuz (rocket family) Russian and Soviet rocket family

Soyuz is a family of expendable Russian and Soviet carrier rockets developed by OKB-1 and manufactured by Progress Rocket Space Centre in Samara, Russia. With over 1,900 flights since its debut in 1966, the Soyuz is the most frequently used launch vehicle in the world as of 2021.

Guiana Space Centre French and European spaceport near Kourou in French Guiana, operational since 1968

The Guiana Space Centre also called Europe's Spaceport is a French and European spaceport to the northwest of Kourou in French Guiana, a region of France in South America. Operational since 1968, it is particularly suitable as a location for a spaceport. It fulfills the two major geographical requirements of such a site:

Ariane 1 Rocket

Ariane 1 was the first rocket in the Ariane family of expendable launch systems. It was developed and operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), which had been formed in 1973, the same year that development of the launcher had commenced.

Black Arrow British satellite carrier rocket developed during the 1960s

Black Arrow, officially capitalised BLACK ARROW, was a British satellite carrier rocket. Developed during the 1960s, it was used for four launches between 1969 and 1971, all launched from the Woomera Prohibited Area in Australia. Its final flight was the first and only successful orbital launch to be conducted by the United Kingdom, and placed the Prospero satellite into low Earth orbit.

European Launcher Development Organisation

The European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) is a former European space research organisation. It was first developed in order to establish a satellite launch vehicle for Europe. The three-stage rocket developed was named Europa, after the mythical Greek god. Overall, there were 10 launches that occurred under ELDO's funding. The organisation consisted of Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Australia was an associate member of the organisation.

Saphir (rocket)

Saphir VE231 was a French sounding rocket. It was part of the "pierres précieuses" family of launch vehicles. Saphir was used between 1965 and 1967 and had a payload capacity of 365 kilograms (805 lb). The rocket could reach a maximum altitude of 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) and produced thrust of 280 kilonewtons (63,000 lbf) at launch. Saphir had a launch mass of 18,058 kilograms (39,811 lb), a diameter of 1.40 metres and a length of 17.77 metres (58.3 ft).

Taepodong-1 was a three-stage technology demonstrator developed by North Korea, a development step toward an intermediate-range ballistic missile. The missile was derived originally from the Scud rocket and was tested once in 1998 as a space launch vehicle. As a space launch vehicle, it was sometimes called the Paektusan 1.

Timeline of first orbital launches by country List

This is a timeline of first orbital launches by country. While a number of countries have built satellites, as of 2019, eleven countries have had the capability to send objects into orbit using their own launch vehicles. Russia and Ukraine inherited the space launchers and satellites capability from the Soviet Union, following its dissolution in 1991. Russia launches its rockets from its own and foreign (Kazakh) spaceports.

History of spaceflight

Spaceflight began in the 20th century following theoretical and practical breakthroughs by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert H. Goddard, and Hermann Oberth. First successful large-scale rocket programs were initiated in the 1920s Germany by Fritz von Opel and Max Valier, and eventually in Nazi Germany by Wernher von Braun. The Soviet Union took the lead in the post-war Space Race, launching the first satellite, the first man and the first woman into orbit. The United States caught up with, and then passed, their Soviet rivals during the mid-1960s, landing the first man on the Moon in 1969. In the same period, France, the United Kingdom, Japan and China were concurrently developing more limited launch capabilities.

Thor (rocket family) American rocket family

Thor was a US space launch vehicle derived from the PGM-17 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile. The Thor rocket was the first member of the Delta rocket family of space launch vehicles. The last launch of a direct derivative of the Thor missile occurred in 2018 as the first stage of the final Delta II.

Black Prince was a proposed British-led satellite expendable launch system. It would have made heavy use of the preceding Blue Streak missile and the Black Knight test rocket development programmes, as well as some new elements, to produce a British-built launcher capable of deploying medium-sized payloads into orbit. Popularly known as the Black Prince due to its assigned rainbow code, in official documentation, the platform was referred to as the Blue Streak Satellite Launch Vehicle (BSSLV).

The French space program includes both civil and military spaceflight activities. It is the third oldest national space program in the world, after the Soviet and American space programs, and the largest space program in Europe.

Ariane 6 European launch vehicle (under development)

Ariane 6 is a European expendable launch system currently under development by ArianeGroup on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). It is intended to replace the Ariane 5, as part of the Ariane launch vehicle family. The stated motivation for Ariane 6 is to halve the cost compared to Ariane 5, and double the capacity for the number of launches per year.

Starlette and Stella are nearly identical French geodetic and geophysical satellites. Starlette was launched on 6 February 1975 and Stella on 26 September 1993. Starlette was the first passive laser satellite developed.



  1. 1 2 Bleeker, Geiss and Huber 2012, pp. 50-51.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Turner 2008, p. 8.
  3. Bleeker, Geiss and Huber 2012, p. 51.
  4. Bleeker, Geiss and Huber 2012, pp. 51-52.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Bleeker, Geiss and Huber 2012, p. 52.
  6. Bleeker, Geiss and Huber 2012, pp. 52, 1673.
  7. Bleeker, Geiss and Huber 2012, pp. 52, 105.
  8. "DIAL/MIKA - NSSDC ID: 1970-017B". NASA NSSDC.
  9. "DIAL/WIKA - NSSDC ID: 1970-017A". NASA NSSDC.
  10. Bleeker, Geiss and Huber 2012, p. 93.
  11. Wade, Mark. "Europa". Encyclopedia Astronautica.


  • Bleeker, J.A., Johannes Geiss and M. Huber. "The Century of Space Science." Springer Science & Business Media, 2012. ISBN   9-40100-320-3.
  • Turner, Martin J.L. "Rocket and Spacecraft Propulsion: Principles, Practice and New Developments." Springer Science & Business Media, 2008. ISBN   3-54069-203-7.