Germany could build missile warning system in space

Europe plans to shrug off setbacks in space sector with new launches scheduled in 2023

European rocket launches take place from a spaceport in French Guiana. Reuters
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Germany could deploy a missile warning system in space, military chiefs have revealed.

The defence ministry said a new space command would begin work in April involving almost 100 military personnel.

It said there were no plans to cut ties with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, but that a new German satellite was being studied.

Defence officials revealed their thinking on space in 40 pages of documents released to German MPs.

“Security in space has become a focal point for Germany and the armed forces,” they said.

“Russia and China are investing in technologies and capabilities with which they could threaten or damage military or civilian space systems, or limit Germany’s access to, use of and freedom of manoeuvre in space.”

The news comes as Europe tries to strengthen its position as a space player to compete with the US, Russia and China.

Britain is still waiting on a first launch from its soil after delays to a mission backed by Sir Richard Branson.

Two satellites from French company Airbus crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after a failed launch from French Guiana last month.

Despite these setbacks, Europe’s space agency wants to make 2023 a landmark year with a first solo mission to Jupiter and the launch of a new-generation rocket.

Germany faces space threats

Only the US and Russia have missile warning systems in space. But Germany's armed forces are "concretely studying the possibility", the government said.

“The timeline for building such a capability is currently being investigated," it said in the military papers.

It comes amid a €100 billion ($106 billion) upgrade to Germany's military forces after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Addressing questions from MPs, the ministry would not be drawn on whether a provocation in space could trigger Nato’s Article 5 mutual defence clause.

The Nato treaty is mainly about the defence of allied territory on the ground, and a response to any space attack would depend on the facts at the time, officials said.

The new German space commando will have 91 personnel when it begins work in April and more than double in size by 2027.

It will answer to the head of the air force and follow Britain’s formation of a space command in 2021 and France’s in 2019.

Britain awaits first launch

A rocket made by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has been waiting for months to make the first space launch from British soil.

Planned for last summer, the launch slipped back to autumn and then into 2023. Virgin finally received the required safety permits on December 21.

The rocket is expected to take off from Cornwall, in south-west England, where rehearsals have taken place at an airport in Newquay.

Britain regards its long coastline and high-tech space sector as selling points in the commercial launch market.

Wales wants to be a space industry centre in its own right, hoping to attract jobs and rebuild its manufacturing sector.

One Welsh company, Space Forge, has a slot on the Virgin launch and plans to use the extreme conditions of space to make yet-undiscovered materials on its satellite.

Virgin's Launcher One rocket in Cornwall, where the UK's first launch is scheduled to take place. Getty

French investment

A pair of Earth satellites built by Airbus in Toulouse, France, were meant to join two others in orbit at the end of 2022, serving civilian and military clients.

It all went wrong when the launcher failed only minutes after blasting off from French Guiana, and the rocket and satellites were lost.

Airbus, which is part-owned by the French government, said it was a “challenging moment” for those who built the spacecraft.

Despite that setback, France plans to invest more than €3 billion ($3.2 billion) in space in the coming years, including in new European rockets.

The Guiana spaceport, on the South American mainland, will get a €900 million ($954.4 million) revamp to make it more environmentally friendly.

A French-Italian venture, Thales Alenia Space, meanwhile, is setting itself up as a rival to Wales’s Space Forge. It signed a contract last month to build what it calls the “first floating space factory".

The European Space Agency's Jupiter orbiter is expected to launch in April. AFP

Europe takes on Jupiter

The European Space Agency's first solo mission to Jupiter is due to launch in April, beginning a decade-long quest to explore the planet's moons.

The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or Juice, is expected to reach the planet in 2031. After joint ventures with Nasa in the 1990s, it will be the first Jupiter mission run almost entirely by the ESA.

The spacecraft will explore the surfaces of Ganymede, Europa and Callisto and ask whether life could exist on Jupiter’s moons.

If all goes well, it will be the last time an Ariane 5 launcher blasts off from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana, on the South American mainland.

By late 2023, it is hoped, the new Ariane 6 could be ready for launch after repeated delays pushed back a 2020 start date.

The ESA has been handed an increased budget of €4.8 billion ($5.1 billion) until 2027 as Europe tries to become less reliant on other spacefaring powers.

Russia has said it will withdraw from the International Space Station by 2024, while the crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan have made some in Europe nervous about their military reliance on the US.

Updated: January 04, 2023, 2:03 PM