Since 1989, Thomson-CSF has been growing far beyond its French roots. Acquisitions and interests in Europe, Australia, Asia, South Africa, in the Middle East, and in North and South America consolidate its position as a global player. At the end of the year 2000, a change of name reflects the new orientation. Thomson-CSF becomes Thales. The name was taken from Thales von Milet, one of the fathers of Greek philosophy from the 7th to the 6th century before Christ. Being a polymath, Thales dealt with philosophy of nature, astronomy and mathematics. The guiding principle was always the search for knowledge. A goal, the Thales Group as a leading technology group is also obliged to – with an innovative business culture, 28,000 employees in research and development, an annual budget of 1 billion Euro and a network of scientific cooperation.
2002 Science fiction becomes reality
In 1996, Thomson-CSF acquired from Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG the X-ray and travelling wave tubes production in Ulm out of the AEG-Telefunken inheritance. An investment with measurable success: At the turn of the millennium, more than half of the satellite transmissions worldwide take place via a Thales tube from Ulm or the French sister plant in Vélizy.
At the same time, the portfolio is extended by a new product: the high-efficiency multistage plasma thruster (HEMP-T). What sounds like science fiction and looks like an oversized LED spotlight is neither one nor the other: By accelerating ionised Xenon gas, HEMP generates a thrust of 45 millinewton – sufficient for the routine position corrections of satellites in the vacuum of space. As no conventional rocket fuel is used, the satellite is smaller, lighter, more flexible and safer, and thus reduces costs. The development was initiated by measurements on a defective tube – a lucky “operational accident”. With his expertise in the field of magnetic fields, Thales is the preferred partner for the project that is coordinate by the German Aerospace Centre. The practical test is scheduled for 2021. The ion thruster from Thales will then move the Heinrich Hertz satellite.
2005 Secure high speed
Since the 1990s, the European Train Control System (ETCS) has been developed as a follow-up technology of the LZB in the field of train protection. Track clearance and stop signal information are transmitted to the train driver at an early stage, permissible speeds are calculated, status messages are sent to the control centre – and in case of an emergency, automatic braking is initiated. One advantage of the new system is the consistent use with the EU and in many other participating countries. In 2001, Thales ETCS Level 1 is handed over. In 2005, the GSM-based Level 2 is presented. Since then, more and more lines have been retrofitted. And development has not stopped: Improved communication and networking; cyber security; cloud-based, intelligent and autonomous systems are the challenges of our time.
2006-08 New partnerships
Thales’ success story is always associated with effective partnerships. SEL’s decades-long interests in ESG Elektroniksystem- und Logistik-GmbH was acquired and has been continued until 2015. In 2006, the entry into Diehl Aerospace GmbH is approved. The company develops and produces avionics systems and cabin equipment for air traffic at several locations. In Hamburg, a customer service centre is located in the immediate vicinity of the main customer Airbus and the German branch of the US-American Thales subsidiary Thales Aviation Inc., which supplies products for in-flight entertainment. In 2008, another joint venture with the partner Diehl creates Junghans Microtec GmbH.
2007 From Alcatel to Thales
At the end of 2006, Alcatel and the US-American telecommunications supplier Lucent Technologies merge. The Germany headquarters of the new group remains Thales Deutschland’s neighbour in the former Lorenz premises in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, but the long-established SEL abbreviation in the company name is omitted. As part of the restructuring, Thales takes over the railway signalling technology division from Alcatel-Lucent. Their satellite communication department also changes hands. It merges into the Franco-Italian “Space Alliance” between Thales and Finmeccanica S.p.a. that consists of the two joint venture companies Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio. In return, Alcatel-Lucent increases its interests in Thales to 21%.