Tanja Zegers, GovSatcom manager, European Commission.

LUXEMBOURG — The European Commission has released a request for information from European industry on the design and operation of a ground infrastructure to manage the EU’s future GovSatcom program.

It is perhaps the first formal manifestation that GovSatcom, while its future budget remains uncertain, is likely to survive the budget arbitration expected later this year between the European Parliament, the commission and the European Council.

“I have been spending time over the last several years talking about what we plan to do,” said Tanja Zegers, GovSatcom program manager at the commission. “Today I can tell you have have started doing something.”

The commission on May 20 issued what it calls a Preliminary Market Consultation for the GovSatcom hub and set a June 28 deadline for submissions: http://bit.ly/2MbeOgs

For now, there is no promise of any financing. Instead, the commission will take the industry response and then return with a formal request for proposals later this year, on the assumption that the budget issue is resolved.

GovSatcom is part of a proposed seven-year space program budgeted at 16 billion euros ($18 billion). Inside that budget are two new initiatives — GovSatcom and Space Situational Awareness (SSA) — that will divide 1 billion euros.

The European Parliament has proposed adding more funds, including 200 million euros for the GovSatcom/SSA budget. But while the parliament and the EU Council have approved much of the program, no final budget deal has been reached. A decision awaits a broader agreement on the Multi-year Financial Framework (MFF) covering the entire EU budget from 2021 to 2027.

Credit: EEAS

“We are in quite a complex period,” Zegers said here May 21 during the Luxembourg Space Forum. “We have [EU] elections, Brexit coming up and in that framework we have to prepare the next MFF. It’s a very good thing that the Council and Parliament agreed on most of the text. GovSatcom is one of the four components in the agreed text.

“What is still missing is the part on the budget. Specifically, for GovSatcom, the budget is not yet agreed.”

GovSatcom’s goal is to provide all EU member nations with a secure satcom capability for emergency response, overseas military operations, protection of critical infrastructure and other purposes.

Until at least 2025, GovSatcom’s main goal will be to create a ground network that allows GovSatcom users to switch from one to another satellite provider with the same user terminal. These satellite providers will include commercial companies, with a preference for EU-based operators, as well as existing national satellite systems.

Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat, Hispasat, Avanti and Inmarsat are all domiciled in the European Union, although Avanti and Inmarsat will not have that status once Brexit becomes effective.

In addition, there are two public-private partnerships dedicated to government satcom: The SES agreement with the Luxembourg government for the GovSat-1 satellite, already in orbit; and Hisdesat of Spain’s long-term contract with the Spanish Defense Ministry to operate the Spainsat NG network, recently approved and contracted to Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space.

Britain, France, Italy and Germany have military satellite communications networks operational for years.

Two new companies — Ovzon of Sweden and Space Norway — are building their own satcom programs.

GovSatcom as currently envisioned would see the commission purchasing capacity from one or more of these national providers and then making that capacity available to any EU nation or EU organization.

The Space Program legal text agreed to in April says GovSatcom may set prices for its satcom capacity if demand exceeds supply.

Third-party providers, meaning providers from non-EU nations, will be allowed to participate after signing specific security agreements with the EU — an arrangement similar to EU rules for accessing its Galileo positioning, navigation and timing network’s Public Regulated Service of secure signals.

The 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA) has been working on its own GovSatcom precursor program, called Pacis, and has signed six Pacis agreements including a total of eight operators including the SES-Luxembourg and Hisdesat public-private partnerships.

Credit: ESA

ESA in late 2016 funded its GovSatcom precursor program inside the agency’s telecommunications directorate, for a total of 85 million euros.

“After three years it has probably exceeded our expectations, said Hermann Ludwig Moeller, ESA’s head of institutional and European programs. Pacis includes the same kind of pooling and sharing that the commission foresees for GovSatcom.

ESA was also involved in the recent Spainsat NG program by supporting development, in Spain, of a reconfigurable antenna for the two Spainsat NG satellites.

ESA is planning a follow-on to the Pacis program pending approval of a budget by its member states at ESA’s November Space 19+ ministerial conference.