EU Space broadband. Image from EC

15 February 2022, Strasbourg- The EU is taking steps to realize its space objectives today by introducing two initiatives: a proposal for a Regulation on space-based secure connectivity and a Joint Communication on an EU approach to Space Traffic Management (STM). Space technology is critical for facilitating our daily lives and contributing to our planet’s transition to a more digital, green, and resilient future. The EU’s Space Programme, as a major space power, currently delivers essential data and services for a wide range of daily uses, including transportation, agriculture, crisis response, and climate change mitigation, to name a few.

However, in order to continue to profit freely from the benefits of space, the EU’s space policy must evolve and adapt in response to new challenges and greater international competition. The actions announced today will help to maintain the efficiency and security of our current assets while also creating cutting-edge European space technology for the benefit of our population and economy.

Space-based secure connectivity

Space-based connectivity is a key asset for the EU’s resilience in today’s digital environment. It allows us to have economic power, digital leadership, technological sovereignty, competitiveness, and societal advancement. For European governments and citizens, secure connection has become a public good. As a result, the Commission has proposed a bold plan for an EU space-based secure communication infrastructure that will:

  • Ensure the long-term availability of worldwide uninterrupted access to secure and cost-effective satellite communication services. It will support the protection of critical infrastructures, surveillance, external actions, crisis management and applications that are critical for Member States’ economy, security and defence;
  • Allow for the provision of commercial services by the private sector that can enable access to advanced, reliable and fast connections to citizens and businesses across Europe, including in communication dead zones ensuring cohesion across Member States. This is one of the targets of the proposed 2030 Digital Decade. The system will also provide connectivity over geographical areas of strategic interest, for instance Africa and the Arctic, as part of the EU Global Gateway strategy.

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Governmental user requirements and satellite communication solutions are rapidly evolving. The EU’s space-based secure communication system will contain the newest quantum communication technologies for strong encryption in order to address these expanded and evolving needs. It will be built on the development of disruptive and new technologies, as well as the use of the New Space ecosystem.

The entire cost is expected to be around €6 billion. At current rates, the Union’s contribution to the Programme from 2022 to 2027 is €2.4 billion. The money will come from a variety of public and private sector sources, including the EU budget, Member States’ contributions, and contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA).

This initiative will increase the competitiveness of the EU space ecosystem by providing a gross value added (GVA) of €17-24 billion and additional jobs in the EU space industry, with additional positive spillover effects on the economy through downstream sectors that use innovative connectivity services. The technological advantages, reliability, and operational performance of such satellite communication systems assuring high-speed internet connections across the EU would also benefit citizens.

Space Traffic Management

The resilience and safety of EU and Member States’ space assets are under threat as the number of satellites in orbit grows exponentially due to new advancements in reusable launchers, tiny spacecraft, and commercial space ventures. It is vital to ensure that space maintains a safe, secure, and sustainable environment in order to ensure the long-term viability of space activities. As a result, Space Traffic Management has become a high-priority public policy issue, requiring the EU to act immediately, collectively and at a multilateral level, if we are to maintain the safe, secure, and long-term use of space for future generations.

In light of this, the Joint Communication lays out an EU strategy for space traffic management. The purpose is to create specific efforts, such as operations and legislation, to encourage safe, secure, and long-term space utilization while protecting the EU’s strategic autonomy and industry’s competitiveness.

The EU approach focuses on four elements:

  • Assessing the STM civilian and military requirements and impacts for the EU;
  • Strengthening our technological capability to identify and track  spacecraft and space debris;
  • Setting out the appropriate normative and legislative framework;
  • Establishing international partnerships on STM and engaging at a multilateral level.

Members of College said:

“Space technology is essential for our everyday life and security. Today’s initiatives will ensure secure, efficient connectivity at all times. It is benefitting both citizens and governments. It will play a key role in Europe’s digital transformation. And make us more competitive. I hope that an EU approach to space traffic management and space technology will guarantee a safe and sustainable use of space in the long run.”

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager

Space has become more crowded than ever, increasing the complexity and the risks related to space operations. To address this global challenge, we propose today an EU approach to Space Traffic Management. We will develop concrete capabilities, set norms and engage with key partners and in multilateral fora to ensure a safe, secure and sustainable use of space. While STM is a civilian endeavour, European security and defence depend on a safe, secure and autonomous access to space.

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, stated.

“Space plays a growing role in our daily lives, our economic growth, our security, and our geopolitical weight. Our new connectivity infrastructure will deliver high-speed internet access, serve as a back-up to our current internet infrastructure, increase our resilience and cyber security, and provide connectivity to the whole of Europe and Africa. It will be a truly pan-European project allowing our many start-ups and Europe as a whole to be at the forefront of technological innovation.” Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market.

The two initiatives adopted today are concrete deliverables of the Action Plan on Synergies between civil, defence and space industries, where these two flagship projects are mentioned.

Secure Connectivity

The Commission began an initial system study in December 2020 to research technical factors and various service offering models in order to deploy this new space-based project assuring safe connectivity across Europe.

Meanwhile, the Commission issued a new request for participation from the European New Space ecosystem in order to incorporate technologically cutting-edge, innovative concepts from SMEs and start-ups. In December 2021, two contracts were awarded, and technical work is now underway, with findings expected in June 2022.

Space Traffic Management

The EU has had a Space Surveillance and Tracking capacity (SST) since 2016, according to the EU SST Consortium. So date, more than 130 European organizations from 23 Member States have signed up for EU SST services (collision avoidance, fragmentation analysis, re-entry analysis). The collision avoidance service is now used by over 260 EU satellites, including the Galileo and Copernicus fleets.

Through its data-sharing network, EU SST partners shared 100 million measurements in 2021. Following a Russian anti-satellite test on November 15, 2021, the EU SST fragmentation service confirmed the presence of and tracked space debris from the destruction of a satellite in low orbit (COSMOS 1408).

Source:  European Commission

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