EU Commissioner outlines strategic direction for European Satellite Communications System

Executive Summary:

European Union (EU) internal market commissioner Thierry Breton made several important comments at the European Space Conference (ESA) yesterday.  Breton outlined plans to “develop rapidly” a new space-based connectivity initiative. In particular, the EU has secured an important budget – €13.2bn – the largest budget ever – for Space.  They’ve also agreed on the new EU space program, the first of its kind for Europe.

“My objective is to go fast,” he said. “Therefore, it would be appropriate that the commission puts forward this year a proposal to the European parliament and the council so we can move concretely.”

The satellite constellation design will be “multi-orbital,” combining LEO and GEO satellites. “It will also complement our existing infrastructures, creating synergies,” added Breton. He thinks the new satellite infrastructure will enhance the Galileo signal, and boost performance of Copernicus, another European satellite system focused on Earth observation.

                                             Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner Internal Market
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EU Strategy for Satellite Based Connectivity:

There are four pillars of the EU’s strategy for space/satellite based connectivity:

  1. Consolidating Galileo & Copernicus

The launch of the second generation of Galileo satellites [1.] will commence with a first launch in 2024.

Note 1. Galileo is the EU’s Global Satellite Navigation System (GNSS).  Sometimes called the ’European GPS‘, Galileo provides accurate positioning and timing information. Galileo is a programme under civilian control and its data can be used for a broad range of applications. It is autonomous but also interoperable with existing satellite navigation systems. At the moment, the Galileo constellation consists of 26 satellites.

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New missions for Copernicus are coming. The  ESA has awarded 6 new precursor missions, all of which have huge potential, such as the CO2 monitoring mission or the polar observation mission. Copernicus will need to adapt to the new competition in the dynamic field of earth observation.

     2.  Connectivity: secure digital connections for the future

Europe needs to develop rapidly an space based connectivity initiative as a third infrastructure besides Galileo & Copernicus.  That infrastructure will:

  • put an end to dead zones, giving access to high speed broadband to everyone;
  • become autonomous and avoid dependence on the non-EU initiatives under development, like we did with Galileo;
  • project Europe into the quantum era, ensuring quantum encrypted communication;
  • keep the continent connected whatever happens, including massive attacks on the internet, which are no fiction anymore, especially with the emergence of the quantum computing capacities.

“My objective is to go fast. And therefore it would be appropriate that the Commission puts forward this year a proposal to the European Parliament and the Council so we can move concretely. To be ready, we launched a few weeks ago a study on a secure space-based connectivity system. The selected consortium consisting of European satellite manufacturers, operators and service providers, telco operators and launch service providers will study the possible design & development of this project.”

3.  Strategic autonomy in launchers and Space Traffic Management (STM)

The EU budget will be used to support the European launcher industry in the full chain: from earliest research on new propulsion technologies to long-term contracts for the launches of our EU satellites.

“I will therefore gather in the next months all the actors to initiate a European Launcher alliance so to be able to jointly define, with ESA, the Member States, the European Parliament, the industry, a common roadmap for the next generation of launchers and technologies relevant to ensure an autonomous access to space.”

The other element of Europe’s strategic autonomy is how we operate in space thanks to a Space Traffic Management system.

“An increasingly congested space is threatening the viability and security of space infrastructures and operations. A million pieces of debris are in orbit around the earth – and the number is constantly increasing! It is expected that in the next years to come, more than 30 000 additional satellites will be launched. This is why we already have the Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) framework.  But we need to go further by developing a robust EU STM policy and related capabilities – starting actively in 2021.”

4.  Europe as space entrepreneurship Hub

As a last element of the space strategy for 2021,  Tierry wants to  position Europe as THE hub of space entrepreneurship in the world.

“I see the future of the European space industry as a combination of strong institutional leadership and European approach to New Space, one that is not a mere copy past of the US. Now is the time to seek alternative business models and funding schemes. I will therefore launch this year a new Space entrepreneurship initiative: CASSINI.

CASSINI will put in place – together with the EIB/EIF – a €1bn European Space Fund to boost start-ups and space innovation. It will cover actions on the whole innovation cycle, from business idea to industrialization, building on the €100m Space Equity Pilot we launched last year.  With CASSINI, we want to stimulate more VC funds to actively invest in space companies in Europe; but also to get other industries to invest into space technologies and solutions. We want also to organize a true European space incubator, relying on the strengths of all the actors but putting them into a coherent and integrated network.”

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Conclusions:

The EC recently launched a study on what a secure space-based connectivity system might look like. A selected consortium, comprising European satellite manufacturers, operators and service providers – along with telcos and launch service providers – are tasked with studying the possible design and development of the project.  “This will provide insights on the technical dimension, but also the governance structure, the financing, the missions, the exact scope.  I expect their first feedback in April this year.”

In conclusion, Breton  said, “2021 will be a defining year for our space strategy and for the position of Europe on the global space stage.  We have enormous challenges to face, with serious risk of losing ground. We need to be able to find the resources to reinvent ourselves, to break taboos and the established cooperation.”

“And for this, I wish to work closely with all of you: Member States, Parliament, industry. And of course with the ESA – who will have a central role in this endeavor.”

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EU’s Satellite Internet Competition:

Breton’s desire to move fast is no doubt motivated by the progress on two other sat communications initiatives, Starlink and OneWeb.  Part of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, Starlink has already started to offer beta broadband connections in northern Europe. OneWeb, owned by the UK government and Indian conglomerate Bharti Global, hopes to have an initial offering in the same region later this year.

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References:

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/breton/announcements/speech-commissioner-thierry-breton-13th-european-space-conference_en

https://www.lightreading.com/services/europe-plots-mega-sat-comms-project/d/d-id/766622?

https://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/space/galileo_en

https://www.copernicus.eu/en

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