ONERA was created in May 1946 as the National Aeronautics Studies and Research Office. Its responsibilities covered all the aeronautics fields, but were extended to the space field in 1963. ONERA then became the National Aerospace Studies and Research Office.

Early ONERA rockets

ONERA research on rockets had several objectives: mastery of solid propulsion, development of subsystems (stabilization, control, telemetry, ...) but also qualification of aircraft components. Several ONERA departments developed rocket vehicles.

"OR" rockets of the "Structure Resistance" department
The OR series were small rockets essentially devoted to tests of new structures. Weighing 450 kg, 4 m long and 180 mm in diameter, these rockets were often dropped from planes before undertaking their mission. A dozen OR rockets were launched at Mailly-le-Camp, between 1955 and 1958.

"VD" rockets of the "Energy and Propulsion" department
The VD series, also fired from 1955, allowed the first supersonic studies and to master instabilities that could result in the destruction of high speed vehicles. From 1957, some of these experimental rockets (VD-2050, VD-2141) were also used for research on tactical missiles.

"OPd" rockets of the "General Physics" department
The OPd series were a family of vehicles destined for the development of the instrumentation necessary for research in aerodynamics and aerothermodynamics. More than fifteen vehicles with various dimensions and weights were used as part of these studies. The first rockets were designated by their diameter expressed in mm (OPD-80, OPD-100, OPD-200, OPD-220, OPD-250, OPD-320). They could be used alone or associated with boosters. Other vehicles were designated by their program number; such as the 2-stage 2422 (SPRAN 10 and SPRAL motors) or the 3-stage 2012 (SPRAN 20, SPRAN 4 and SPRAH motors). This rocket - 8.8 m long and weighing 927 kg - was destined to test the remote control of a model equipped with a delta wing. It was fired for the first time on 28 October 1957 from the Levant island.

Among the ONERA technological vehicles, we can mention the D-6 rocket, fired five times starting in 1963 to test the Concorde wings up to Mach 2.2 with a model fuselage measuring 2.7 m in length and 25 cm in diameter. This rocket weighed 1070 kg at takeoff and measured 8.5 m in length.

ONERA rockets for re-entry studies

The study of missile warhead re-entry necessitated, at the end of the 50s, the development of a more powerful rocket. The Antares rocket, that was designated OPd-56-39-22D during the development phase, had to allow study of the kinetic heating of objects flying up to Mach 7. Measuring 12.2 m long, with a takeoff weight of up to 1785 kg, it comprised four stages of which three were fired upward (up to 150 km) while the fourth accelerated the payload during the descent. The first stage used a SEPR 734-1 motor (Vesuve block), 56 cm in diameter and 3.5 m long, delivering a total impulse of 1025 kNs in less than 5 seconds. The second was the sustainer stage (Neptune block); it measured 39 cm in diameter, 3.2 m in length and provided 630 kNs in approximately 32 seconds. The third stage was a SEPR 685-4 (Mimosa block) 2.6 m long and 20 cm in diameter, providing 167 kNs in less than 5 seconds. The fourth stage motor (Melanie block) was attached to the payload that measured 22 cm in diameter. With all four stages used for the ascent, Antares could send a payload of 35 kg to 280 km altitude.
Thirteen launches were carried out between 2 May 1959 and 13 May 1961, six of which were under the designation Antares.

Note: OPd-56-39-22-D/Antares firings had been preceded, on 30 January 1959, by a unique launching of the OPd-12-10-D rocket constituted of an OPd-100 surrounded by three 122 mm diameter boosters.

Berenice Berenice

Like Antares, Berenice had four solid stages, but the total takeoff weight reached 3340 kg and the height 13.25 m. Two stages were fired upward, the next two downward. With its four motors functioning on the ascent, Berenice could have launched a 40 kg payload to 1000 km altitude.
The first stage, designated BER, comprised a main motor and around the rear part of it a group of four rotating auxiliary motors allowing control. The main motor was a
Stromboli SEPR 739, 56 cm in diameter and 4.7 m in length weighing 1885 kg. With 1240 kg of Plastolane propellant, it delivered a total impulse of 2860 kNs in 20 seconds. The four auxiliary rockets were SEPR 167, 16 cm in diameter, with the nozzle canted at an angle of 45 degrees. With 23.5 kg of Epictete propellant, each provided 45 kNs in 21.6 seconds. The vehicle control was obtained by rotating these auxiliary motors around their longitudinal axis. The second stage was a Stromboli SEPR 740, 3.2 m long weighing 1050 kg of which 740 kg was propellant providing 1650 kNs in 18 seconds. After burn-out, it remained fixed to the upper stages to insure, by its fixed fins, the stabilization of the rocket that peaked at 270 km approximately. During the descent, at about 55 km altitude, the upper stages stabilized by conical skirts burned successively to accelerate the experimental mockup. The third stage SEPR 200 (Tramontane block) was 2.35 m long and 33.5 cm in diameter, weighed 280 kg with 156 kg of propellant, and provided 333 kNs in 6.7 seconds. The 4th stage (Melanie block) 22 cm in diameter, was 2.95 m long and weighed 120 kg (including payload); its 22 kg of propellant delivered 49 kNs in 4.4 seconds. Around 20 km of altitude, when the maximum speed of about Mach 12 was reached, the test itself began and lasted about twenty seconds.
Eleven Berenice of this type were launched between 1962 and 1965, a twelfth launched in 1966 was used to prepare the Titus experiment for studying a solar eclipse.

In April 1963, ONERA presented a project for a small satellite (3.5 kg) called Satmos, which could have been launched by a modified Berenice rocket on a 250/1800 km orbit. This launcher was to be available in 1964, one year before Diamant. But the utility of this operation was not obvious and the project was cancelled.

From 1965, ONERA undertook, with the support of the DMA, a new program of re-entry experiments named ELECTRE. This program planned four flight tests with Tibere rockets.

Tibere was a three-stage rocket measuring 14.5 m in height and weighing 4.5 tons. The first stage was a BER cluster (SEPR 739 + 4 SEPR 167), the second was another SEPR 739, while the third stage was a P.064 inherited from Diamant A. The first two stages fired during the ascent made the upper composite (3rd stage + payload) culminate at 150 km altitude. This composite was beforehand directed towards the descent trajectory by an attitude control device (CASSIOPEE). P.064 accelerated the warhead mockup in descent between 130 to 60 km altitude. The experiment itself occurred between 60 and 20 km and lasted ten seconds until destruction of the payload.
Two flights only were actually carried out in February 1971 and March 1972.

Note: The two Tibere launches had been preceded by an experiment named CRAPEL (Cible-RAdar Preparatoire a ELectre). This experiment used a Belier rocket with a specific second stage (52 kNs in 10.5 sec) mounted upside down under the fairing.

ONERA sounding rockets

Some equipment destined for the Antares rockets had been tested on a 3-stage rocket that was also used to develop atmosphere studies.
This rocket, designated Daniel (initially OPD-220-ADX), comprised a SPRAN 50 booster, 39 cm in diameter and 2.54 m long, a sustainer stage powered by a Jericho block (largely used thereafter on
Belier rockets), an upper stage of the same type as that of Antares and a fairing slightly longer. Its total height reached approximately 8.5 m and its maximum mass 813 kg. It was used three times between 1959 and 1961.

From elements developed for the Berenice rockets, ONERA created two sounding rockets destined for various scientific studies.

The first of these sounding rockets was the Tacite rocket (Tentative of Analysis of Infra-red Contrast Ground-Space). It was a single-stage vehicle using a SEPR 739-2 motor, stabilized by a cruciform tailfin equipped with small nitrogen spin nozzles.
With a takeoff mass of approximately 2 tons, Tacite could launch a 285 kg payload to 160 km altitude. This rocket was fired four times (with one failure) between 1965 and 1968.

Titus Titus

The second in this series of sounding rockets was the Titus rocket, especially developed for observing the Sun during the eclipse of November 1966. This rocket used the first two stages of Berenice (with a second stage SEPR 740-3 slightly longer). The BER cluster of the first stage allowed a high precision trajectory particularly useful for these experiments.
The vehicle measured 11.5 m high, weighed 3 tons, and could launch 400 kg to 250 km altitude.
Two Titus rockets were launched successfully on November 12, 1966, from Chaco in Argentina, with the collaboration of the Argentine CNIE.

Note : ONERA contributed thereafter to the CNES astronomical sounding rocket program by providing the CASSIOPEE device (Attitude Control by Inertial and Stellar Sensors for Orientation and Aiming of Experiments on the Stars). This device flew ten times between 1968 and 1975, with 2 ELECTRE and 8 astronomy experiments.

a/ ONERA rockets evolution
b/ Re-entry experiments
c/ Sounding rockets launches
Listings compiled with Philippe Varnoteaux's help, University of Reims, France

Institut Français de l'Histoire de l'Espace - Fusées-sondes françaises

a/ ONERA rockets evolution

Scale in meters

 1st stage2nd stage3rd stage4th stagePerformances
AntaresSEPR 734-1
NeptuneSEPR 685-4
Melanie35 kg to 280 km
BereniceSEPR 739
SEPR 740
Melanie40 kg to 1000 km
TaciteSEPR 739-2
---220 kg to 200 km
TitusSEPR 739-2
SEPR 740-3
--400 kg to 250 km
TibereSEPR 739-2
SEPR 739-2
P.064-400 kg to 650 km

b/ Re-entry experiments

30 Jan 1959IDLOPd-12-12-DTechnology/Kinetic heatingS, Mach 2.4
02 May 1959IDLOPd-56-39-22-D 01Technology/Kinetic heatingS
22 Oct 1959IDLOPd-56-39-22-D 02Technology/Kinetic heatingS
15 Dec 1959IDLOPd-56-39-22-D 03Technology/Kinetic heatingPS, 3rd stage failure
02 May 1960IDLOPd-56-39-22-D 04Technology/Kinetic heating?
05 May 1960IDLOPd-56-39-22-D 05Kinetic heatingS
26 Sep 1960IDLOPd-56-39-22-D 06Kinetic heatingPS
30 Sep 1960IDLOPd-56-39-22-D 07Kinetic heatingS
25 Nov 1960IDLAntares 08Kinetic heatingPS, antenna breakage
30 Nov 1960IDLAntares 09Kinetic heatingS
03 Mar 1961IDLAntares 10Kinetic heatingS
06 Mar 1961IDLAntares 11Kinetic heatingS
07 Mar 1961IDLAntares 12Kinetic heatingPS, telemetry problem
13 May 1961HMGAntares 13High altitude radiationsS
27 Jun 1962IDLBerenice 01Technology/Kinetic heating 
06 Jul 1962IDLBerenice 02Technology/Kinetic heating 
?? ??? 1962IDLBerenice 03Technology/Kinetic heating 
?? Nov 1962IDLBerenice 04Technology/Kinetic heating 
27 Jun 1963IDLBerenice 05Kinetic heatingMach 12
03 Jul 1963IDLBerenice 06Kinetic heatingMach 12
?? ??? 1964IDLBerenice 07Kinetic heating 
?? ??? 1964IDLBerenice 08Kinetic heating 
?? Oct 1964IDLBerenice 09Kinetic heatingMach 12
?? Oct 1964IDLBerenice 10Kinetic heatingMach 12
?? ??? 1965IDLBerenice 11Kinetic heating 
?? ??? 1966IDLBerenice 12Solar corona, Titus flight testS
25 Sep 1969BISBelier 307CRAPEL, ELECTRE flight testS
23 Feb 1971BISTibere 01ELECTRE experimentS
18 Mar 1972BISTibere 02ELECTRE experimentS

c/ Sounding rockets launches

27 Jan 1959IDLDaniel 01Atmosphere radioactivityS (127 km)
13 May 1961HMGAntares 13High altitude radiationsS
05 Oct 1961IDLDaniel 03TechnologyS
09 Oct 1961IDLDaniel 02TechnologyS
15 Jun 1965IDLTacite 01Earth IR radiationS
12 Nov 1966#ARGTitus 01FU150 Astronomy (eclipse)S (274 km)
12 Nov 1966#ARGTitus 02FU150 Astronomy (eclipse)S (270 km)
23 Nov 1967IDLTacite 02FU169 AstronomyVF, explosion
15 May 1968IDLTacite 03Earth IR radiationS
15 Oct 1968IDLTacite 04FU183 Technology (attitude control) + AstronomyPS (140 km)
Notes: #ARG: Argentina;BIS: Biscarosse (CEL);HMG: Hammaguir (CIEES); IDL: Levant island (CERES)
S: success; VF: vehicle failure

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Please contact Jean-Jacques Serra <> for comments, corrections or questions