EU unveils €6bn satellite communications plan in space race bid

System aims to support cyber security and deliver high-speed internet access

This handout image acquired from the European Space Agency (ESA) on August 21, 2018, shows a digital representation of the Aeolus wind satellite as the rocket’s fairing, which cocoons Aeolus during liftoff and ascent, opens. - A satellite designed to measure Earth's global wind patterns is set to be hoisted into orbit on August 21, 2018, from the Arianespace launch site in French Guiana. The European Space Agency's (ESA) Aeolus mission -- named for the guardian of wind in Greek mythology -- promises to improve short-term weather forecasting and our understanding of manmade climate change. (Photo by Handout / ESA / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / ESA" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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The European Commission has laid out a €6 billion ($6.82bn) plan for a secure, state-of-the-art satellite system that would handle communications for the EU’s 27 member states.

The commission said the space-based system would help protect critical infrastructures and cyber security, support surveillance and bolster applications that are vital to member states’ economies, security and defence.

About €2.4bn will come from the commission's budget while the rest will come from individual EU countries and industry.

“Space plays a growing role in our daily lives, our economic growth, our security, and our geopolitical weight,” said Thierry Breton, internal market commissioner.

“Our new connectivity infrastructure will deliver high-speed internet access, serve as a backup 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.”

Margrethe Vestager, the commissioner responsible for issues such as telecoms and IT, said space technology is “essential for our everyday life and security” and “will play a key role in Europe's digital transformation”.

The move comes amid a surge in satellite launches from governments and commercial operators.

Elon Musk's SpaceX and its Starlink network, which aims to launch tens of thousands of satellites to supply global space-based Wi-Fi, have also contributed to a fast-growing satellite population as well as resulting debris.

The commission also wants to establish a “space traffic management” system amid the surge in the number of satellites in orbit to ensure “that space remains a safe, secure and sustainable environment”.

Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said “space is getting crowded” as she announced the move.

“The goal is to develop concrete initiatives, including operations and legislation, to promote the safe, secure and sustainable use of space while preserving the EU's strategic autonomy and industry‘s competitiveness,” the commission said.

EU foreign affairs and security chief Josep Borrell said the bloc “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”.

Updated: February 15, 2022, 5:32 PM