PARIS — A key committee of the European Parliament has favorably reviewed the proposed seven-year space budget proposed by the European Commission and proposed a large spending increase for space situational awareness and military satcom.
The Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee also reiterated the terms and conditions of access by “third countries”, meaning non EU nations, to the secure, encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS) of the EU Galileo positioning, navigation and timing network.
Terms of access continue to be a contentious subject between the EU Commission and the British government, which wants to retain its industry’s current status in Galileo even after Brexit.
The commission has rejected this, saying security-related PRS work cannot be performed by non-EU companies. British companies, including CGI and Airbus Defence and Space, that are currently involved in PRS must either relocate their expertise to the European Union or forfeit future contracts for this specific piece of the Galileo architecture.
Britain has responded by funding studies to build its own satellite-based PNT constellation unless the EU changes its policy.
Meeting Nov. 19 to discuss the budget, ITRE simply reiterated that PRS access by third countries will be governed by the existing 2011 European Council decision, which Britain signed.
Unless a special agreement is struck under the ongoing Brexit negotiations, Britain will be obliged to conclude a security agreement with the European Union in return for PRS access, just as is the case for the United States and Norway, both of which have requested access.
The European Commission had proposed a space budget of 16 billion euros ($18.3 billion) for the seven-year budget 2021-2027, a large increase over the previous seven-year period and especially large given the doubts about Britain’s continued presence as a contributor.
The difficult negotiations over the space budget and the overall commission financial envelope will only come next year when the Parliament, the Commission and the EU Council meet to produce final numbers.
Brexit or not, ITRE, which has long been viewed as a supporter of R&D spending in general and space spending in particular, added 900 million to the space budget, for a total of 16.9 billion euros.
The committee left untouched the proposed 9.7 billion euros for Galileo and the related EGNOS geostationary-orbit overlay to monitor and validate GPS and Galileo signals.
The earlier proposal included 5.8 billion euros for the Copernicus environment-monitoring program. ITRE increased that to 6 billion.
The earlier budget had proposed to divide evenly a total of 500 million euros between a nascent Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and space weather program, which would start by bringing current national SSA efforts, including ground radars, into a single program; and the GovSatCom program to pool and share military satellite telecommunications resources among EU nations.
National government officials and EU parliament members had complained that with just 71.4 million euros per year, a European SSA program was not going to get far in its stated goal of reducing its dependence on the U.S. Space Surveillance Network.
ITRE added 700 million euros to the SSA/GovSatCom budget, bringing it to 1.2 billion euros over seven years. It did not specify any specific division of the resources.
Seeding ‘alternative launch technologies,’ but not Europe’s spaceport
The European Commission and ITRE have both caught the enthusiasm produced by the New Space movement of small startups planning new commercial ventures in satellite telecommunications, surveillance, tracking and other missions.
The commission has funded, albeit at low levels, designs of small-satellite launch vehicles to be operated from proposed new mainland-EU territory as part of a push to capture the economy vitality of New Space.
At the same time, the commission has been reluctant to contribute to the operation and development of Europe’s Guiana Space Center, located in French Guiana — French national territory — on the northeast coast of South America. And it is not investing in the new Ariane 6 or Vega-C rockets, to be operated from the spaceport.
ITRE’s budget document continues this trend, calling for “alternative launching technologies and innovative systems or services.” But it also said that, “where this is required for the objectives of the [EU Space] Program, the necessary support for the maintenance, adaptations and developments of the space ground infrastructure, notably existing infrastructures,” be made.
“In particular, where space ground infrastructure necessary to perform launches in line with the needs of the Program is to be maintained or upgraded, it should be possible to partially fund such adaptations… where a clear EU value added can be established.”
The committee viewed favorably the idea of the commission collecting all its satellite programs into a single contract vehicle, a demand long made by ArianeGroup, Avio, OHB SE and other Ariane and Vega contractors.
But as was the case with a recent European Space Agency (ESA) ministerial conference in Spain, the ITRE language on this point is vague, with no precise call to action.
An EU space agency and the ESA – Commission tug of war
The commission’s space policy and budget proposal called for creation of a European Union Agency for the Space Program, which would come from the enlargement of the current EU GNSS Agency (GSA), which manages Galileo and Egnos.
The new agency’s authority, budget and operating permeters have never been clear. ESA has been concerned it would threaten ESA activities or duplicate them. The commission also is wary of ceding authority to a new agency that would have more autonomy than the current GSA.
ITRE’s proposal is that the commission should retain responsibility for the security aspects of Copernicus, SSA and GovSatCom, while the new agency manage security for Galileo and EGNOS.