SES Eagle-1 to fly on Arianespace to offer quantum connectivity

Launch date confirmed for Eagle-1 satellite for European Space Agency’s end-to-end quantum key distribution system

In the latest progression of the satellite connectivity market, which has gained increasingly higher orbits over the past two years or so, satellite operator SES has revealed that its Eagle-1 craft, designed support the end-to-end secure quantum key distribution (QKD) system for Europe, will be placed into low-Earth orbit (LEO) by an Arianespace Vega C rocket from French Guiana by the fourth quarter of 2024.

The Eagle-1 project comprises satellite and ground infrastructure developed by SES and its consortium of 20 European partners, with support from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission (EC). The project is co-funded by ESA contributors Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and the Czech Republic under Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES), as well as the EC through Horizon Europe.

The project will aim to provide mission data for next-generation quantum communication infrastructures (QCIs), contributing to the European Union’s (EU) plans to deploy a sovereign, autonomous cross-border quantum secure communications networks.

In the scope of EuroQCI, the Eagle-1 satellite will enable early access, validation and integration of space-based QKD for EU member states. Together with its partners, SES will build the first sovereign European end-to-end space-based QKD system, developing and operating a dedicated LEO satellite and building a state-of-the-art QKD operations centre in Luxembourg.

SES will also design develop, launch and operate the Eagle-1 system, enabling in-orbit validation and demonstration of next-generation cyber security across Europe.

Following the launch, the Eagle-1 satellite will complete three years of in-orbit mission supported by the EC. During this operational phase, the satellite will allow EU governments and institutions, as well as critical business sectors, early access to long-distance QKD that would pave the way to an EU constellation enabling ultra-secure data transmissions.

“Building the Eagle-1 end-to-end system for secure data transmission and validating the long-distance quantum key distribution technology is an innovative project that will benefit the EU member states,” said SES chief technology officer Ruy Pinto. “We have been working with Arianespace for decades to deliver our satellites into space and are delighted for them to be onboard to launch the Eagle-1 satellite into orbit.”

Vega C, the new European light launcher, successfully passed its inaugural flight on 13 July and now enters its operational phase under the responsibility of Arianespace. With this contract, Vega C backlog includes over 40 satellite contracts.

The Vega C development programme has been managed by ESA with 12 member states of the agency. Avio Spa (Colleferro, Italy) is the industrial prime of the Vega launch system. Vega C has been upgraded with more powerful first- and second-stage solid rocket motors and with a larger fairing, which significantly increases payload mass and double allowable volume as compared to Vega.

“We are delighted and honoured by this renewed mark of confidence from the leading global content connectivity service provider SES,” said Marino Fragnito, director of Arianespace’s Vega business unit. “Over the last 38 years, Arianespace has carried out 42 launches for its long-standing partner, and Vega C will now continue this successful track record. It is a great honour for us to support our customer’s ambitions and to be part of this mission that aims at implementing Europe’s satellite-enabled cyber security technology.”

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