Centre interarmées d'essais d'engins spéciaux

Coordinates: 30°46′41″N 03°03′19″W / 30.77806°N 3.05528°W / 30.77806; -3.05528 (CIEES)
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CIEES (Centre Interarmées d'Essais d'Engins Spéciaux)
Centre Interarmées d'Essais d'Engins Spéciaux
Near Hammaguir in French Algeria
CIEES in French Algeria
CIEES in French Algeria
Location of CIEES in French Algeria
Coordinates30°46′41″N 03°03′19″W / 30.77806°N 3.05528°W / 30.77806; -3.05528 (CIEES)
Site information
OwnerFrench Air Force, French Army
Open to
the public
Site history
Built1947 [1]
In use1952–1967[2]
FateAbandoned following
Algerian independence
Garrison information
Garrison621st Special Weapons Group, 80th Service Battalion[3]

The Interarmy Special Vehicles Test Centre (CIEES)[5] (French: Centre Interarmées d'Essais d'Engins Spéciaux) was France's first space launch and ballistic missile testing facility. Outside France, the facility is often referred to by the name of the nearest town, Hammaguir (also called Hammaguira).[2] It was established on 24 April 1947,[1][2] by ministerial decree as the Special Weapons Test Center (CEES, Centre d'essais d'engins spéciaux) for use by the French Army. In 1948, it was turned over to the French Air Force, who renamed it CIEES. Its remote location in the middle of the Saharan Desert and its relative closeness to the Equator (compared with Metropolitan France) made it an attractive launch site for missiles and orbital rockets.[4]


The origins of CIEES and the French missile and space program date to the end of the Second World War. On 12 June 1945, less than a month after V-E Day, the War Department ordered the study of self-propelled projectiles (rockets). On 13 August, the Directorate of Studies and Manufactures of Armaments (DEFA) proposed the creation of a Rocket Studies Center to continue studying and developing ballistic missiles. The Center aimed initially to attempt to reconstruct the V-2 rocket based on blueprints captured from V-2 launch sites in France. In November 1946, a mission arrived at Colomb-Béchar, French Algeria, to study the site's suitability as a missile range and launch facility. CIEES began operations at Colomb-Béchar six months later on 24 April 1947.[6]

The Air Force built two launch pads at Colomb-Béchar: the small B0 pad for sounding rockets, and B1, completed in December 1949, for larger missiles.[2] However, both of these launch sites were suitable only for smaller missiles, so a larger launch pad – dubbed CIEES B2 – was eventually built at Hammaguir, 120 kilometres (75 mi) southwest of Colomb-Béchar, in May 1952. CIEES B2 quickly expanded to include five launch pads: Bacchus, for solid fueled sounding rockets, Blandine, for liquid fueled sounding rockets, Beatrice, for testing the Hawk surface-to-air missile and the Cora and Europa rockets, Brigette/A, for the "precious stones" series of rockets, and CB, for the Monica sounding rocket.[2]

After the Algerian War ceasefire in 1962, the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment was sent to the Colomb-Béchar region. Its main mission is to monitor the CIEES's sites. In 1967, the order to evacuate the site was given and the regiment was the last unit to leave the South for the French base of Mers-el-Kébir.

CIEES remained in use until 1 July 1967,[1] when it was finally turned over to the government of newly independent Algeria. French withdrawal from the CIEES facility and other military bases in Algeria was stipulated by the 1962 Évian Accords that ended the Algerian War of Independence. Following CIEES's closure, French space launches were moved to the Kourou Space Center in French Guiana, while missile tests were moved to DGA Essais de missiles in the department of Landes in metropolitan France.[2][4]

Directors of CIEES[edit]

The Director of CIEES was directly appointed by the Minister of the Armed Forces. They were required to also be the Commander of the Colomb-Béchar Airbase (see fr:Base aérienne 145 Colomb-Béchar) and Commander of military installations in the Sahara. The Director was required to be from the Air Force, and the Deputy Director was required to be from the Army. In order, CIEES was commanded by:[3]

  • Colonel Robert Aubinière
  • Colonel Hériard
  • Colonel Charbonneau
  • General Millet
  • General Y. Hautière


As France's main launch site from 1947 to 1967, CIEES was responsible for all early milestones of the French space program. France's first successful rocket launch, of the Véronique sounding rocket, was from CIEES on 22 May 1952. France's first satellite, the Astérix-1, was launched from CIEES on a Diamant rocket on 26 November 1965.[2] CIEES was also the launch site for France's first animal in space: a cat named Félicette, launched to an altitude of 157 kilometres (98 mi) on a Véronique rocket. She survived the flight, making her the only cat to do so.[7]

Due to CIEES's long period of operation, it launched a wide variety of rockets and missiles. With regard to space launches, CIEES was most notable for launching the "precious stones" series of rockets, which included the Diamant, the first French rocket to put a satellite into orbit, and the first non-US or Soviet rocket to deliver a satellite to orbit. The "precious stones" rockets also included the Emeraude, Saphir, Rubis, Agate, and Topaze.[2] Other notable spacecraft included the first tests of the Europa rocket, the first rocket of the European Launcher Development Organisation (the predecessor to the modern Pan-European European Space Agency)[2] and France's first three geodetic satellites, the Diadem.[4]

With regard to missiles, CIEES was the launch site for 1960s-era tests associated with the development of France's land-based medium-range ballistic missiles – the SBSS missile program – and submarine-launched ballistic missiles – the MSBS missile program. It also served as the launch site for testing a myriad of other sounding rockets and anti-aircraft missiles.[4]

CIEES was also the initial launch site for the CT 10 drone, a target drone copy of the V-1 flying bomb that was widely used by the French and British militaries during the early days of the Cold War,[8] as well as the 1950s-era R.511 air-to-air missile.[9]

In total, 231 rockets and missiles were launched from CIEES's seven launch pads over its 20 years of operation.[1]

Notable launches[edit]

Date of launch Satellite Payload mass Carrier rocket References
18 October 1963 Félicette (cat) 15 kilograms (33 lb) Véronique [7][10]
26 November 1965 Astérix-1 40 kilograms (88 lb) Diamant [6]
8 February 1967 Diadem-1 23 kilograms (51 lb) Diamant [2]
15 February 1967 Diadem-2 23 kilograms (51 lb) Diamant [2]

Launch pads[edit]

Launch pads at Colomb-Béchar:

Launch pads at Hammaguir:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Le CIEES (Centre Interarmées d'Essais d'Engins Spéciaux)" (in French). Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Wade, Mark. "Hammaguira". Astronautix. Archived from the original on 7 September 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Test Centres". Les Unités Sahariennes (in French). Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e Pike, John (24 July 2011). "Hammaguir / Hamaguir". GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  5. ^ Chafer, Tony; Keese, Alexander (1 November 2015). Francophone Africa at fifty. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-1-5261-0293-5.
  6. ^ a b Maurice Vaïsse (dir.), La IVth République face aux problèmes d'armement, proceedings of the conference held on 29 and 30 September 1997 at the Military Academy of the Center for Defense of studying history, ed. Association pour le développement et la diffusion de l'information militaire (ADDIM), Paris, 1998, p.561 ISBN 2-907341-63-4, 648 pages
  7. ^ a b Burgess, Colin; Chris Dubbs (2007) [24 January 2007]. Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle. Springer-Praxis Books in Space Exploration. Springer. pp. 225–227. ISBN 978-0-387-36053-9. OCLC 77256557.
  8. ^ collectif, Ouvrage (1985). Mémoire d'usine : 1924–1985 – 60 ans à la production d'avions et d'engins tactiques (in French). Paris: Société Européenne des Arts Graphiques. ISBN 2867380863.
  9. ^ "Air-to-Air". Flight. Vol. 2. 6 November 1961. p. 714.
  10. ^ Jouin, Georges (15 November 1963). Félicette, la 1ère chatte astronaute (Video) (in French). Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  11. ^ "Hammaguira CB". www.astronautix.com. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  12. ^ "Hammaguira Bechar". www.astronautix.com. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  13. ^ "Hammaguira Bacchus". www.astronautix.com. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  14. ^ "Hammaguira Blandine". www.astronautix.com. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  15. ^ "Hammaguira Beatrice". www.astronautix.com. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  16. ^ "Hammaguira Brigitte". www.astronautix.com. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  17. ^ "Hammaguira Brigitte/A". www.astronautix.com. Retrieved 30 August 2023.