December 21, 2009:
France recently launched the second of its Helios II spy satellites, an infrared (heat sensing) one. The operation took place at France's satellite launch center in South America (French Guiana). The first Heilos II, a photo satellite, was launched five years ago. While the Helios satellites are mainly for French intelligence agencies, there is also a cooperation deal with Germany, which has put five SAR-Lupe radar satellites into Europe.
There are actually very few nations capable of launching their own satellites. The first was the Soviet Union (now Russia), which launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957. The U.S. followed in 1958. Since then, seven other nations have done the same. Ukraine was the last to do so, in 1995. Israel launched its first satellite in 1988. France launched its first satellite in 1965, Japan and China in 1970, Britain in 1971, and India in 1980. Iran claims to have joined the club recently, but that claim is disputed. Several nations have had other nations launch spy satellites for them.