In 1996 CNES decided to start the development of Proteus mini-satellite series (Plateforme Reconfigurable pour l'Observation, les Télécommunications et les Usages scientifiques: Reconfigurable Platform for Observation, Telecommunications and Scientific Uses) together with the Jason-1 satellite, the first to use the bus. It meets the needs of satellites in the 500-700 kg class in low Earth orbits for different scientific or application domains.
Unlike large space programmes, this series of small satellites is essentially based on economic considerations. The main objective is to reduce the cost of access to space and thus to favour the emergence of new missions.
After an industrial request for proposals from national prime contractors, Aerospatiale 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 control ground segment. An integrated CNES/Alcatel team was in charge of the design of Proteus. Following the partnership agreement, Alcatel developed the platform and the associated satellite, and CNES retained the role of prime contractor for its own missions.
The launch of Jason-1 on 7 december 2001 successfully finalized the initial step of the series' development. This satellite, built jointly with NASA and succeeding Topex/Poseidon, was retired of sevice on 1 July 2013. It more than confirmed Proteus' 3-year orbital lifetime specification.
Several more missions have since been developed and have benefitted from the know-how acquired during the generic development. One of the latest to launch is Smos, a joint mission of ESA, CNES and CDTI.
CNES has also developed its Myriade series of microsatellite bus operating since 1998.