Europe’s past attempts to create a full-scale Space Situational Awareness network has been limited in the past by national sovereignty issues and by the fact that a system approximating the U.S. Air Force’s Space Surveillance Network would likely cost billions. But the new trans-Atlantic relationship suggested by U.S. President Donald Trump is causing European governments to give a fresh look at a program that would go beyond today’s modest sharing of data from individual European national efforts. Pictured here is the reception station of France’s bi-static Graves radar. Credit: ONERA
BRUSSELS — Donald Trump’s arrival as U.S. president is the best news Europe’s space sector has had in years, European government and industry officials said.
With every sign that the Trump administration will adopt an America-first stance on trade issues, with every Trump statement indicating disaffection with the NATO alliance, European governments will be all the more motivated to circle their wagons and invest in space autonomy, they said.
The reaction to Trump is unlikely to result in any immediate investment decisions to bolster Europe’s space independence. The European Commission said it has little or no margin to move budgets around in the current seven-year financing program, which ends in 2020.
Any concrete budget effect, they said, will need to wait for the next seven-year plan, being negotiated starting this summer. This budget may or many not feature a post-Brexit British contribution to EU-backed space programs. A British absence would put further stresses on the budget contributions of the other 27 EU member nations.
But the two-day Conference on European Space Policy held here Jan. 24-25 featured a remarkably consistent series of statements suggesting that even without near-term funding, a policy inflection is occurring in Europe, thanks to the new U.S. president.
‘Buy European’ launcher contract advances
Here are examples of decisions that have been given new impetus given the perceived changes in the trans-Atlantic relationship:
— A commitment by the EU to place all government satellites scheduled for launch between 2021 and 2025 into a single contract with European launch providers. In the past, Germany and Italy in particular have been reluctant to sign such agreements, and both have made use of Russian and American rockets.
The German military’s second-generation radar Earth observation satellite network, the three-satellite SARah system, will be launched on two SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicles.
Italy is still considering a possible SpaceX launch of one of its two second-generation Cosmo-Skymed radar satellites.
Both systems are scheduled for launch before 2021.
Will these two governments now agree to bind themselves to European launches for a least five years?
Roberto Battiston, president of the Italian Space Agency, said his agency is arguing just that to the Italian government. Italy is a major contributor to Europe’s Vega small-satellite launcher, which under the proposed contract would get at least two government payloads per year during the five-year period.
Ariane 6 would get five payloads per year, each equivalent to a full Ariane 62 or one-half of the more-powerful Ariane 64.
Battiston said Italy had only one satellite now foreseen for that period — the joint Israeli-Italian Shalom hyperspectral Earth observation satellite.
Germany has at least one geostationary-orbit satellite, the civil-military Heinrich Hertz telecommunications satellite, currently planned for launch between 2021 and 2025.
German industry officials said German government hesitation remains but appears to be giving way.
“It’s because of Trump!” one German industry official said. “He is driving us all to greater European solidarity and a greater wish for autonomy. Yes, it’s selfish of industry because we stand to gain from it. But it’s a fact that the policy is shifting in this direction.”
Renewed interest in Space Situational Awareness
— A larger effort in Space Surveillance and Tracking that would evolve into a Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program. Europe’s current effort, of just 70 million euros ($74 million) over five years, is mainly to support coordination of limited SSA assets operated in Europe.
Recent announcements by the U.S. Defense Department that it would not furnish SSA data forever to global governments and commercial industry given that most of the assets are unrelated to U.S. military interests were made before Trump’s election.
But officials here expressed concerns that the Trump administration would accelerate the move toward putting the U.S. SSA capability in another agency that could charge for the service.
Federica Mogherini, vice president of the European Commission and the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, stated her support for an operational SSA capability. She is not in the habit of doing this.
Elzbieta Bienkowska, the European commissioner for industry, whose responsibility includes space policy, said the goal is to “develop the recent Space Situation and Tracking system into an EU space Situational awareness system to track space debris and protect critical infrastructures.”
Several officials said Europe is nowhere near a decision on what likely would be a multibillion-dollar effort to duplicate the U.S. Space Surveillance Network but could develop a system good enough to make Europe a U.S. partner in SSA rather than a mere beneficiary or customer.
European milsatcom gathering support
— A government satellite telecommunications program.Launch in 2017 a Governmental Satellites Communication (GovSatCom) initiative to ensure secured satellites communication.
This program is designed to share milsatcom assets among EU nations, if not by building EU-owned satellites then at least by “pooling and sharing” capacity owned by individual nations.
Even this limited effort seemed doomed to fizzle until recently, although how Germany and France will react to it is still unclear, and Britain’s post-Brexit role in any effort unknown.
Bienkowska said she was determined to launch “in 2017 a Governmental Satellites Communication (GovSatCom) initiative to ensure secured satellites communication.”