Europe is planning to launch its own satellite constellation, known as ‘Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite’, or IRIS², which could compete with SpaceX’s Starlink ever-growing megaconstellation which now has over 4,000 satellites in orbit.
European Union Commissioner Thierry Breton announced the plans in November 2022 and the call for tender was responded to with enthusiasm by big players in the space and telecommunications sector, with smaller businesses including startups invited to the partnership.
The satellite constellation, which would be similar to SpaceX’s Starlink, aims to bring a new secure and resilient connectivity infrastructure to European governments, businesses and citizens by 2027.
The Costs And The Partnership
The European Union will provide 2.4 billion euros to fund the project, which is the current cost estimate, with additional contributions expected from the European Space Agency and private investments, reports arstechnica.com.
A partnership between almost every major European satellite company was signed on Tuesday to tackle what’s being dubbed as Europe’s flagship space programme for a digital, resilient and safer Europe.
Described as an “open consortium”, the partnership will be governed by Airbus Defence and Space, Eutelsat, Hispasat, SES and Thales Alenia Space, with Deutsche Telekom, OHB, Orange, Hisdesat, Telespazio, and Thales all uniting with the ambitious plan to create the state-of-the-art satellite constellation based on a multi-orbit architecture.
“This partnership will set up an integrated best-in-class European space and telecoms team across these companies to leverage the expertise and capabilities in the field of secure satellite communications solutions. The consortium will encourage start-ups, mid-Caps and SMEs to join the partnership, resulting in a more innovative and competitive European space sector where new business models will emerge.” The companies wrote in a statement.
An Incremental Approach For The EU
Not wanting to rely on Elon Musk’s established resources, the Defence Industry And Space report “[the] EU needs to urgently act in order to ensure guaranteed access in an unrestricted manner.”
The EU continually seeks to be technology trendsetters in satellite-based communications and spaceflight activities, and by “integrating innovative technologies, derived from both established space industry players with proven technology as well as the disruptive “New Space” ecosystem” the continent is making ambitious moves to make this a reality.
Defence Industry And Space, speaking on the constellation plans, said “It will allow further development of high-speed broadband and seamless connectivity throughout the Union, removing communication dead zones and increasing cohesion across Member State territories, and allow connectivity over geographical areas of strategic interest outside of the Union.”
The European Union stated that the implementation of IRIS² would be gradual, with initial ambitious plans to deliver the service by 2024, reaching full operational capacity with global coverage by 2027.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, China allegedly announced their own plans to construct a megaconstellation of its own by the end of the year, which is also set to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink, which is set to launch 13,000 satellites into orbit.
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