European space and comms firms eye up IRIS² constellation opportunity

After signing off on its Galileo and Copernicus constellations, EC tenders for supply of new secure and resilient connectivity infrastructure for European governments, businesses and citizens

A group of European space and telecommunications players have come together to form a partnership to respond to the European Commission’s (EC) call for tender to make possible the third in its portfolio of strategic space infrastructures in the form of IRIS², the Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite.

The third in the EC’s constellations after Galileo and Copernicus, IRIS² is the European Union’s (EU) new flagship space programme for a digital, resilient and safer Europe. It aims to bring a new secure and resilient connectivity infrastructure to European governments, businesses and citizens. The EC wants its new constellation to deliver resilient and secure connectivity solutions to governments to protect European citizens and provide commercial services in the interest of European economies and societies.

With an EU budget of €2.4bn, plus a contribution from the European Space Agency (ESA) and private investments to come, IRIS² is intended to establish space as “a vector of European autonomy, a vector of connectivity and a vector of resilience”, heightening Europe’s role as a true space power with a “clear ambition and sense of direction”. It is also designed to bolster the EU partnership policy by offering its infrastructure abroad.

Commenting on the project when first announced in November 2022, EC commissioner Thierry Breton said: “The efforts and energy made at European level to move this initiative forward at record speed also reflect, in my view, the importance of IRIS² in an increasingly contested geostrategic environment. Space is indeed a much coveted area in which the European Union must guarantee its essential interests. And our space technologies have become strategic capabilities for our citizens, for the resilience of our economies and, of course, for our armies.”

The consortium bidding for tender is headed by Airbus Defence and Space, Eutelsat, Hispasat, SES and Thales Alenia Space. The consortium will also rely on a core team including Deutsche Telekom, OHB, Orange, Hisdesat, Telespazio and Thales. Together, they will aim to create a state-of-the-art satellite constellation based on a multi-orbit architecture that would be interoperable with the terrestrial ecosystem.

In practice, the consortium aims to foster collaboration among all European space players across the whole connectivity value chain, with a view to enabling the EU’s strategic autonomy through the delivery of sovereign, secure and resilient government services to protect European citizens.

The team said it would take advantage of synergies between government and commercial infrastructures. The partners say they are well positioned to provide commercial services to bridge the digital divide across European territories and to increase Europe’s global outreach and competitiveness as a space and digital power on the global market.

In an initial move, the partnership will set up an integrated European space and telecoms team across its member companies to use the embedded expertise and capabilities in the field of secure satellite communications solutions. The consortium will encourage startups, mid-Caps and SMEs to join the partnership, resulting in a more innovative and competitive European space sector where new business models will emerge.

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