The European Council’s Space Working Party meets Feb. 16 to review a draft space policy that confers new authority on the European Commission to bundle European government demand for satellite launches into a single multi-year contract. The policy is backed by Europe’s launch industry as a way of providing the future Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets with a guaranteed anchor-customer demand. In return, the industry has agreed to do without annual price supports no provided by the European Space Agency. Credit: European Commission
PARIS — The European Union’s ruling council on Feb. 16 will be asked to assign the European Commission the role of “prime institutional customer” for Europe’s space-launch vehicles with the power to aggregate demand.
The draft of the proposed strategy also calls for reducing Europe’s dependence on Amazon and Google for data storage, notably data from the EU’s Copernicus environment-monitoring network, and more broadly for reducing European dependence on non-European space technology.
The United States and Japan are the principal non-European providers of space hardware in Europe.
The draft strategy, published Feb. 9 — http://bit.ly/2l6zJ5R — is part of the “Space Strategy for Europe” text that will be debated by the council’s Space Working Party, set to meet Feb. 16 in Brussels.
The document reinforces many of the proposals made by the European Commission in October and November covering civil and military space strategy. The latter calls for a “GovSatCom” initiative that would do for military satellite telecommunications what the launcher initiative proposes for government satellite launches
For Space Surveillance, GovStaCom initiatives, where’s funding?
Few, if any, of these proposals are controversial in nature, but many require financial resources that are not immediately available. The European Commission this year will conduct a mid-term review of its seven-year budget, which goes through 2020, but the budget does not have much margin for any big new spending initiatives.
Still less certain is the post-2020 multi-year funding picture given that the 28-nation EU’s third-largest economy, Britain, is an uncertain contributor following Britain’s exit from EU membership.
Given these circumstances, the council’s endorsement of a more robust European Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) network and GovSatCom may not go anywhere this year.
But other proposals, such as the launcher initiative and the push for less dependence on the United States in commercial space technology, do not require major new funding.
Launcher policy tuned to French government, Euro industry demand
The launcher policy sought by European industry, and long sought by the French government, would lead to a five-year contract with the European Commission covering launches between 2021 and 2025. The contract would cover all European government missions, including those that today are launched by the Europeanized Soyuz medium-lift rocket.
In 2019, Europe’s new Vega-C small-satellite rocket is scheduled to be operational, followed the next year by the heavy-lift Ariane 6 vehicle.
By 2021, European industry wants the German-Russian Rockot vehicle and the Europeanized Soyuz to be removed from the family of European vehicles eligible for European government missions.
Rockot, a converted ballistic missile, is about to be removed from service by Russian authorities in any event. The future of the Europeanized Soyuz has yet to be decided.
Operated from Europe’s Guiana Space Center on South America’s northeast coast, the rocket has won commercial in addition to government customers.
Security, commercial interest in store-in-Europe data strategy
The movement in Europe to reduce its dependency on U.S.-based data storage providers — http://bit.ly/2kPQ7DQ — has both security and commercial motivations.
The document supports “the establishment of European industry-led services platforms, in complementary to the European Cloud, to aggregate Copernicus data and offer appropriate dissemination and access to data, notably for European businesses, including Small and Medium Enterprises, to reduce the current dependence on non-EU sources and to develop a globally competitive space data ecosystem in Europe.”