The French space agency CNES is hoping to follow in the footsteps of NASA's Discovery mission programme by using smaller, cheaper spacecraft instead of larger, more expensive missions.

SPOT Image, the company set up by the CNES to market satellite imagery, has been a disaster from a financial viewpoint. Although it was set up in 1982, the French government still provide most of its funds.

The company has collected over 5 million images in the past ten years. Their latest satellite - SPOT-3 - was launched last November, and will joined by SPOT-4 this year. Both craft have a resolution of 10 m. Work on SPOT-5, which will be launched in 2002 and will have a resolution of 5 m, has already started. The French government is keen to cut the costs of SPOT-5 and its successors.

SPOT would have to double its revenue before it could finance new satellite construction according to Jacques Mouysset, the chairman of CNES. Such a task could be difficult as the company faces increased competition from other companies in the Earth observation market.