Summary: For more than 20 years, the French space agency has conducted a non-military but official investigation into UFO reports. In its first phase, the project was named GEPAN and its focus was primarily on UFO reports. Subsequently, the project was renamed SEPRA and was assigned a more general responsibility for studying all atmospheric reentry phenomena. This appendix gives a brief summary of the history, mission, operations and achievements of this project.
For more than 20 years, the French space agency has conducted a non-military but official investigation into UFO reports. In its first phase, the project was named GEPAN and its focus was primarily on UFO reports. Subsequently, the project was renamed SEPRA and was assigned a more general responsibility for studying all atmospheric reentry phenomena. In the body of the report, we have for convenience referred to the project as "GEPAN/SEPRA." This appendix gives a brief summary of the history, mission, operations and achievements of this project.
The French space agency is known as CNES (Centre National d'Études Spatiales). It was founded in 1962 to conduct French space activities on a national basis and also in the context of the European Space Agency (ESA) or of other international collaborations. CNES currently has 2,500 employees. The CNES headquarters are in Paris but its technical center is in Toulouse.
GEPAN (Groupe d'Études des Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non-identifiés - Study Group for Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena) was established as a department of CNES in Toulouse in 1977. At that time, its head was Dr. Claude Poher, who had already performed statistical analyses of files containing several thousand observations worldwide (Poher, 1973). CNES set up a scientific advisory board comprising astronomers, physicists, legal experts and other eminent citizens to monitor and guide GEPAN's activities.
The first tasks undertaken by GEPAN were:
To establish data collection procedures in conjunction with the Air Force, civil aviation authorities, the Gendarmerie (French internal police), meteorological offices, the national police, etc.
To conduct statistical analyses of eye-witness reports.
To investigate previously reported cases.
These initial studies led to the following conclusions:
Those events that remain unexplained after careful analysis are neither numerous nor frequent.
The appearance of some reported phenomena cannot readily be interpreted in terms of conventional physical, psychological or psycho-social models.
The existence of a physical component of these phenomena seems highly likely.
Following these initial steps, GEPAN undertook to develop a more theoretical but rigorous approach to these studies. It was clear at the outset that it would be necessary to consider both the physical nature and the psychological nature of the phenomenon. In order to fully understand a witness's narrative account, it was necessary to consider not only the account but the psychology and personality of the witness, the physical environment in which the event occurred, and the witness's psycho-social environment.
GEPAN negotiated agreements with the Gendarmerie Nationale, the Air Force, the Navy, the meteorological offices, police, etc. These negotiations led to procedures by which these organizations provided GEPAN with relevant reports, video tapes, films, etc., which were then processed and analyzed either by GEPAN or by associated laboratories. However, from 1979 on, GEPAN worked mainly with reports from the Gendarmerie since these reports proved to be best suited for GEPAN's purposes.
GEPAN developed a classification system to reflect the level of difficulty in understanding the reports:
Type A: The phenomenon is fully and unambiguously identified.
Type B: The nature of the phenomenon has probably been identified but some doubt remains.
Type C: The report cannot be analyzed since it lacks precision, so no opinion can be formed.
Type D: The witness testimony is consistent and accurate but cannot be interpreted in terms of conventional phenomena.
Reports of Type A and Type B were further subdivided into astronomical, aeronautical, space, miscellaneous, and identified. GEPAN carried out statistical analyses aimed at classifying cases according to sets of physical characteristics.
Two types of investigations were carried out on individual reports:
Mini-investigations, that were applied to cases of limited significance; and
Full investigations, that were applied to unexplained cases (Type D) in which effort was made to obtain as much information as possible, including gathering and analyzing physical and biological evidence.
During the GEPAN phase, the project initiated several lines of research involving other laboratories and consultants. These were aimed at seeking a possible basis for modeling unexplained aspects of UFO reports, as well as seeking new techniques for the more active investigation of UFO events by the development of detection systems. These research topics included:
Research on possible magnetohydrodynamic propulsion systems;
Study of facilities to collect unexpected atmospheric phenomena on a worldwide basis, that led to the proposal of the Eurociel Project to develop a network of ground stations equipped with wide-angle observation systems and powerful real-time processing algorithms;
Methodology for image analysis (photographs, videos, etc.); and
Study of aeronautical cases, especially radar-visual cases.
In 1988, GEPAN was replaced by SEPRA (Service d'Expertise des Phénomènes de Rentrées Atmosphériques - Atmospheric Re-entry Phenomena Expertise Department). M. J-J. Velasco, who had been a member of GEPAN since the very beginning, took charge of this new project that was then assigned a wider mission. This new project was called upon to investigate all re-entry phenomena including debris from satellites, launches, etc. However, the budget was drastically reduced so that research into UFO reports could not be maintained at the earlier level. Nevertheless, all existing official procedures concerning data collection have been maintained to ensure continuity in receiving reports.
After 21 years of activity, the GEPAN/SEPRA files now contain about 3,000 UFO reports supplied by the Gendarmerie. About 100 of these reports were found to justify specific investigations. Of this number, only a few cases remain unexplained today.
There have been attempts by SEPRA to increase the scope of the project at least to a European level, but this has not yet been successful. One of these attempts was the "Eurociel" project: the basic concept was to implement two sets of wide-angle optical detection stations, sited some tens of miles apart following a parallel of latitude, each station to be equipped with CCD-type cameras, with a minimum of one in the visible and one in the infrared. The output from these cameras would feed data into a microcomputer that triggers recording of the data when the computer determines that a change has suddenly occurred. The data from all these stations would be stored in a central facility to permit the calculation of trajectories. Such a system could detect lightning, meteors, unknown satellites, and other known or unknown phenomena.
During the GEPAN phase, the project produced many reports and investigations and technical documents concerning topics related to the study of UFO events. These reports were made publicly available. These reports are no longer being disseminated, but some information can still be requested from CNES.