Image: Nasa

EU reaches agreement on new satellite constellation

The European Union reached a political agreement on Thursday to fund its next-generation satellite constellation with €2.4 billion ($2.5 billion) between 2023 and 2027.

Intended to be operational by the end of that period, the constellation of hundreds of satellites called IRIS² (Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite), will be used by both government and commercial customers.

It was proposed in February, and justified again by the European Council on Thursday, stating: “Cyberattacks and natural disasters can lead to the breakdown of terrestrial communication networks. The establishment of this constellation will provide for a better connected critical infrastructure and high-speed and resilient independent satellite communication services.”

The European Union also sees the investment as crucial given the current speed at which “third-country mega-constellations” are taking up space in low-Earth orbit. “It is paramount for Europe to develop a sovereign, autonomous and secured connectivity infrastructure,” the European Commission stated.

Following the political agreement between the European Parliament and member states, the program now needs to be signed off by COREPER, the committee of permanent representatives made up of member states’ heads of mission to the bloc.

After that, the Commission will award contracts for the project’s various aspects to private industry in what it says will be a competitive process.

The constellation is the bloc’s third satellite program after Galileo, the European version of GPS, and Copernicus, its climate change observatory.

It would ensure that governments have a satellite-based communications channel “supporting the protection of critical infrastructures, surveillance, external actions, crisis management and applications that are critical for the economy, environment, security and defense.”

Alongside that it would enable the private sector to provide “worldwide high-speed broadband, and seamless connectivity including in communication dead zones and increasing cohesion across Member States’ territories,” said the Commission.

“Safe and reliable communication is a cornerstone of the EU’s strategic autonomy,” said Martin Kupka, the Czech minister for transport. “The secure connectivity programme will build a multi-orbital constellation of hundreds of satellites, which will cover the EU's need for secure communication services and will underpin our position as one of the main players in space. More importantly, it will bring many benefits to citizens and their daily lives.”

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Alexander Martin

Alexander Martin

is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.