BORDEAUX—Nearly 200 years after the French Revolution, this city may face another upheaval. More than 2,000 scientists, engineers and technicians at the core of France's military aerospace effort cast off their normal shyness about self-promotion and turned out in force for the Techno-Espace exhibit and conference held here in early December. This first-ever exposition was intended to offset the dominant position of the civil aerospace industry in the ToulouseMontpellier region to the south. The meeting was inspired in large part by former Prime Minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas, mayor of the city and a member of Parliament. Many of the region's R&D laboratories and assembly points in the region are engaged in a 20-year program to develop the fourth and fifth generation of Ariane rackets. The scientists are working under the aegis of Aerospatiale as main contractor for the Arianespace booster missions (the 19th launching of which is to take place in March). The failure of Ariane's last three missions has led to a refitting of the booster's third-stage engine because of excessive pressure developed in the original hydrogen pump. Jean Sollier, head of Société Européenne de Propulsion (SEP), noted that Ariane's "ignition, not its igniter, was the problem."
SEP, a typical firm, employs 3,900 and had a budget of $400 million in 1986. Besides developing propulsion systems, its specialists are involved in image recognition and processing in association with the French-Swedish SPOT imagery systems. SEP also will help develop composite thermostructural materials for Hermes, the European space shuttle scheduled for launching in the mid 1990s.
"There is a good bit of scientific talent spread through the 150 R&D centers here in the Bordeaux region," said one company president who requested anonymity. "It's too bad, in a way, that Eureka [the French-backed, European high-technology program] does not have a military component and the corresponding funds inherent in the American Strategic Defense Initiative." He and other industrialists can grab the spotlight again in December 1988, when France holds another such exhibition.