Express green signal for the European satellite constellation

Posted on November 17, 2022, 5:14 pm

Never had the European Union decided to equip itself with large equipment so quickly. Indeed, the war in Ukraine gave a major boost to the European Commission’s launch of a European constellation of secure connectivity satellites – like SpaceX’s Starlink and Elon Musk.

The European institutions: Council, Parliament and Commission reached a final compromise on Thursday to start building this third community space infrastructure – after Copernicus for Earth observation and Galileo for navigation.

double equipment

The future constellation will be dual: civilian and military. In its “government” aspect, it must provide ultra-secure communications to strengthen European autonomy and offer redundancy of Internet services in the event of an attack on the terrestrial network or saturation due to a crisis. On the “commercial” side, it will also provide Internet services in white areas and will serve “friendly” regions of the European Union, namely in Africa.

By chance of the calendar, the States had given the green light in principle to this project of sovereignty defended by the European commissioner for the internal market Thierry Breton a few days before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Since then, Elon Musk’s Starlink low-orbiting satellite constellation has shown Ukraine the valuable services it can provide on the ground.

Starlink makes it possible to maintain communication possibilities in war-torn terrain and, above all, demonstrates that it is more difficult to block or destroy a multitude of satellites in low orbit than traditional telecommunications satellites several thousand kilometers from Earth. That is why the twenty-seven Member States and the majority of MEPs have unhesitatingly embraced the need to build this infrastructure, valued at a minimum of €6 billion.

More than 3 billion in public funding

However, the budget discussions were difficult. MEPs were asking for new money, when the Council just wanted to redistribute existing credits. Between the two, the European Commission found lines of credit from several European programs: Galileo, Horizon or the European Defense Fund, to ensure a budget of around 2.4 billion euros between 2023 and 2027.

This vote also paves the way for the European Space Agency (ESA), which next week asks the Member States, in an interministerial meeting, to pay it 750 million euros to support the development of this project. “The agency intends to co-finance it and play a technical advisory role in its development and validation”, argues Elodie Viau, responsible for telecommunications at ESA. The latter also defends an ambitious program of 2.4 billion euros in total for telecommunications in space, so that Europe remains at the best level in the world.

First tenders in early 2023

However, the European Commission wishes to retain control over future contract awards in order to ensure the project’s competitiveness and, above all, its sovereignty – not all ESA Member States are European (UK, Switzerland, Norway ). It will launch tenders in the first half of 2023 with various specifications. A review of European military requirements is ongoing. The architecture is not fixed and it will be up to consortiums of satellite manufacturers and operators to imagine the best service.

With the only rules imposed, the constellation will be dual, multi-orbit and will have to hire European start-ups for 30% of its value. A priori, business groups will therefore have to offer a combination of their best satellites operating in medium and geostationary orbit with the launch of around 300 to 400 satellites in low orbit, equipped with state-of-the-art encryption equipment to offer this connectivity. “secure”. 🇧🇷 An exercise to consolidate European military needs is underway. The new infrastructure should be in place by the end of 2027, expects the European Commission.

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