EU: Launches satellite connectivity system and strengthens space traffic management action

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The Commission has presented two initiatives for secure space connectivity and a joint communication on the EU approach to space traffic management (STM) in order to realize its space ambitions.

Space technology is essential to facilitate our daily lives, as it contributes to a more digital, green and sustainable future for our planet. The EU, as a major space power, already provides valuable data and services through its space program for a wide range of day-to-day applications, from transport, agriculture, crisis management to the fight against climate change, among others.

However, due to new challenges and increased international competition, EU space policy must constantly evolve and adapt if we are to continue to enjoy the benefits of space freely. Today’s initiatives will contribute to ensuring the efficiency and security of the resources we already have and, at the same time, to the development of state-of-the-art European space technology for the benefit of our citizens and our economy.

Secure space connectivity

In today ‘s digital world, space connectivity is a strategic asset to the resilience of the EU. Secure connectivity is a public good for European governments and citizens. The Commission is therefore proposing an ambitious plan for a secure EU space communications system, which:

  • will ensure the uninterrupted availability of uninterrupted access to secure and cost-effective satellite communications services worldwide. It will support the protection of critical infrastructure, surveillance, external actions, crisis management and applications vital to the economy, security and defense of the Member States.
  • enable the private sector to provide commercial services that can facilitate access to advanced, reliable and fast connections for all citizens and businesses across Europe, even in the deadlock for communications, ensuring coherence in all Member States . This is one of the goals of the proposed 2030 digital decade. The system will also provide connectivity to geographically strategic areas, such as Africa and the Arctic, as part of the EU’s Global Gateway strategy.

Both the needs of government users and satellite communication solutions are changing rapidly. The EU secure space communications system seeks to meet these growing and changing needs, and will also incorporate the latest quantum communication technologies for secure encryption. It will be based on the development of innovative and subversive technologies and the utilization of the ecosystem of the “New Space” program.

The total cost is estimated at 6 billion euros. The Union’s contribution to the program from 2022 to 2027 amounts to 2.4 billion euros in current prices. Funding will come from various public sector sources [προϋπολογισμός της ΕΕ, συνεισφορές των κρατών μελών και του Ευρωπαϊκού Οργανισμού Διαστήματος (ΕΟΔ)] and from private sector investment.

This initiative will further enhance the competitiveness of the EU space ecosystem, as the development of new infrastructure will provide a gross value added (GVA) of € 17-24 billion and additional jobs in the EU space industry, with further positive secondary effects on economy thanks to downstream sectors that use innovative connectivity services. Citizens will also benefit from the technological advantages, reliability and operational performance of these satellite communications services that provide high-speed internet connections across the EU.

Space traffic management

With the exponential growth of the number of orbiting satellites due to new developments in reusable launchers, small satellites and private space initiatives, the resilience and security of the EU and Member States’ space resources are at serious risk. As protecting the long-term sustainability of space activities is vital, it must be ensured that space remains a safe, secure and sustainable environment. Therefore, space traffic management is a public policy priority, which requires the EU to act now, collectively and multilaterally, to ensure the safe, secure and sustainable use of space for future generations.

In this context, the Joint Communication sets out an EU approach to space traffic management. The aim is to develop concrete initiatives, both operational and legislative, to promote the safe, secure and sustainable use of space, while maintaining the EU’s strategic autonomy and the competitiveness of industry.

The EU approach focuses on four elements:

  • assessment of civilian and military requirements and the impact of space traffic management on the EU;
  • strengthening our technological capability for the identification and detection of spacecraft and space debris;
  • establishing the appropriate regulatory and legislative framework;
  • concluding international partnerships for space traffic management and multilateral cooperation.

Members of the Commission made the following statements:

Executive Vice President Margaret Westeyer said: “Space technology is essential to our daily lives and security. Today ‘s initiatives will ensure secure and effective connectivity at all times, for the benefit of citizens and governments, which will play a key role in Europe’ s digital transformation and make us more competitive. “I hope that the EU’s approach to space traffic management and space technology will guarantee the safe and sustainable use of space in the long run.”

The Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Giuseppe Borrell, said: “Space is now more congested than ever, making space operations more complex and dangerous. To address this global challenge, we are now proposing an EU approach to space traffic management. We will develop specific capabilities, set rules and work with key partners and in multilateral forums to ensure the safe, secure and sustainable use of space. “While managing space traffic is a civilian endeavor, European security and defense depend on secure, protected and autonomous access to space.”

“Space plays a growing role in our daily lives, in our economic development, in our security and in our geopolitical power,” said Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market. The new connectivity infrastructures will provide us with high speed internet access, serve as a backup for our existing internet infrastructure, increase our resilience and cybersecurity, and provide connectivity across Europe and Africa. “It will be a truly pan-European project that will allow many of our start-ups and Europe as a whole to be at the forefront of technological innovation.”

Record

The two initiatives adopted today are specific deliverables to the action plan for synergies between the civilian, defense and space industries, which address these two flagship plans.

Secure connectivity

To implement this new space initiative to ensure secure connectivity across Europe, the Commission launched in December 2020 an initial system study to explore the technical aspects and potential service delivery models.

In the meantime, the Commission has issued an additional invitation to participate in the ecosystem of the European New Space program to integrate innovative cutting-edge technological ideas from SMEs and start-ups. In December 2021, two contracts were awarded and the technical work is in progress, with the results expected by June 2022.

Space traffic management

As of 2016, the Union has a Space Monitoring (SST) capability, implemented by the EU SST consortium. More than 130 European organizations from 23 Member States have so far been registered with the EU SST Services , for debris and for the re-entry of objects into the atmosphere). More than 260 EU satellites, including the Galileo and Copernicus fleets, currently benefit from the collision avoidance service.

In 2021, the partners of the EU SST consortium exchanged 100 million measurements through the data exchange platform. Most recently, the EU’s SST debris service confirmed the detection and monitoring of space debris from a low-orbit satellite (COSMOS 1408) following a satellite test conducted by Russia on 15 November 2021.

Nikos Andritsos

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