France is to launch a military spy satellite on 9 December 2009 as part of a investment project to increase independent surveillance from space.

The satellite, named Helios 2B, is scheduled to be launched on a European Ariane rocket from the European Space Agency launch site in French Guiana.

A defence ministry statement said that in an international context marked by uncertainty, France must be able to understand the strategic environment in which it is evolving, and to anticipate threats.

The satellite will help French military forces to draw maps of uncharted zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad and the neighbouring Sudanese region of Darfur.

Helios 2B is the second of France’s second-generation spy satellites being built by the space division of Airbus parent EADS.

France has funded 90% of the $3bn Helios 2 series, initially planned as a pan-European satellite series to counter US space intelligence domination during the Cold War. Italy, Belgium, Spain and Greece have financed the other 10%.