The European Defence Agency (EDA) is quietly moving toward involvement in the military-space sector by providing Europe’s civil space authorities with a list of military requirements for future civilian-financed Earth observation and space-situational awareness projects, according to EDA and other European officials.
It remains unclear how far the effort will go, and already some heads of individual European government space agencies are protesting that they are being asked to fund programs with military specifications but no military funding.
EDA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the commission of the 27-nation European Union have agreed to create a task force with European space-hardware manufacturers to identify technologies that Europe needs but does not have on its own.
Leonardo Argiri, an EDA research and technology project officer, said one EDA role will be to encourage its member governments to coordinate with ESA on what manufacturer to use for a given technology deemed to be in short supply in Europe.
Argiri said during a Sept. 25 presentation at a space-technology seminar organized by the Eurospace space-industry association that by coordinating supply-chain decisions with ESA and the European Commission, EDA can help assure that the space sector maximizes its chance of assuring low-volume production of critical space hardware.
European government and industry officials say a key roadblock to Europe’s self-sufficiency in certain space technologies is that the customers for these products do not agree to use the same suppliers. Without a sufficiently large market, manufacturers of high-end electronics components are unlikely to maintain production lines.
“The idea is to select, for a given component, one company that we can agree to,” Argiri said, “and to agree among the governments that we won’t try to duplicate that product throughout Europe.”
Some European governments, such as France, have long welded civil and military space into a single research and development organization. The French space agency, CNES, is funded by the French research and defense ministries and does work for both.
But other governments, as well as ESA, have maintained a strictly civil role for their space agencies, if for no other reason than that they have no military space ambitions.
But these governments have agreed, through the European Commission and ESA, to fund programs that have clear military applications. One, called Kopernikus, is a fleet of Earth observation satellites planned for the next decade — many of interest to military users. Another, which ESA calls Space Situational Awareness, is a proposal that ESA coordinate existing ground-based radar and optical assets in Europe to get a better look at what is in orbit over European territory.
“There are reasons for combining our work in the context of the Commission’s European Security and Research Program, of the [Kopernikus] community and of ESA,” said Dick Zandee, EDA’s head of planning and policy.
“How do we do this?” Zandee asked during the Sept. 9 conference with ESA and the European Commission that set up the task force. “First, where others can take our military requirements into consideration, [EDA] will provide them. We have already provided the commission with military requirements for [Kopernikus] use for maritime surveillance. In the future, military requirements for wider military use of [Kopernikus] will be developed. We have also started work on military requirements for Space Situational Awareness, though these will not be available before 2009.”
Argiri said that in addition to these areas, EDA is interested in military satellite telecommunications and in satellite data relay. In Europe, most military satellite communications technologies are based on commercial work. ESA has launched a data-relay capability with the Artemis satellite in geostationary orbit and ESA governments are expected to be asked to fund a follow-on data-relay system when they meet in late November to vote on ESA’s long-term budget.
Christian Breant, EDA’s research and technology director, said EDA is active in assuring that the next generation of military or dual-use reconnaissance satellites are built as a network rather than independently as is the case of existing or currently planned observation satellites in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
These nations, joined by Belgium and Greece, have formed a group to design what is called the Multinational Space-Based Imaging System, or MUSIS, to assure that future reconnaissance systems can be used by all members. The MUSIS goal is to have these nations agree, by mid-2009, on a design architecture for all future European reconnaissance satellite programs.
By Peter B. de Selding, PARIS
Space News Staff Writer