In 1996 the CNES decided to start the development of the Proteus mini-satellite series (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, the first user of this series. It intends to meet the need for 500/700 kg class satellites in low orbits in various scientific fields or applications.
Unlike the strategic objectives of major space programs, this series of small satellites is essentially based on economic considerations, which is the main criterion governing most technical and industrial decision making. The main objective is to reduce the cost of access to space and therefore to encourage the emergence of new missions.
After an industrial request for proposals with the national prime contractors of the time, Aérospatiale Cannes (now 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 and control ground segment. An integrated CNES/Alcatel team designed Proteus. In compliance with the partnership agreement, Alcatel developed the platform and associated satellite, and CNES remained prime contractor for its own missions.
The launch of JASON 1, the first Proteus satellite, on 7 December 2001, successfully finalized the initial step of the series' development. This satellite, which was built in co-operation with NASA and was the successor of TOPEX/POSEIDON, is still operating nominally in orbit to the satisfaction of the users of altimetric data. This confirmed Proteus's specified 3-year orbital service life.
Since then, several other missions have been developed and have profited from the know-how acquired during the generic development. The latest mission to be launched was SMOS (on 2 November 2009) which was a mission in which ESA, CNES and CDTI collaborated.
Furthermore, extending the small satellite approach to the micro-satellite series, CNES implemented the Myriade series starting in 1998.