Why Europe wants to go back to the stars

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Europe wants to strengthen its presence in space. This is the ambition of the summit organized today in Toulouse within the framework of the French presidency of the Council of the European Union. Among other things, the satellite constellation project presented by the commission will be discussed.

A summit which must bring together the member countries of the European Space Agency on the one hand and the 27 European space ministers on the other. In the presence of President Macron who is to deliver a speech at midday.

In this vast universe that surrounds us, the American giants of the Net already compete with the States, the competition is sharpening between the great powers, with China, India, Russia seeking to catch up with the United States. In the midst of all this, Europe also wants to exist.

It is a question of sovereignty, security, and an economic question. Because the potential of space is seen as the next source of growth. Europe has actively participated in the conquest of space. With a great commercial success to its credit, the rocket Ariane. But she’s now corny by SpaceXElon Musk’s reusable rocket.

To bounce back, the Commission put on the table yesterday a project for a satellite constellation

To improve internet coverage. We must hurry to build it, because the low orbits where its clouds of mini satellites are currently positioned, about 1,000 kilometers above our heads, will quickly be crowded: there are 143 constellation projects and the frequency bands are allocated according to the order of arrival.

The objective is to offer internet coverage to all Europeans, even those living in remote areas not connected to fiber. But also why not to all the African countries that request it? This would be an alternative for them to the offer offered today by private companies or by China. This constellation is also an essential tool for the security of the Twenty-Seven.

In the event of saturation of terrestrial connections or in the event of a cyberattack, Europe would retain controlled and free access to the Internet.

How much will this project cost?

According to the Commission, this project has a cost of six billion euros. This is almost as much as the annual budget of the European Space Agency. It is therefore a substantial commitment and it is a budget that can become heavier because it is necessary to provide for regular replacement of the mini satellites, every 5 to 7 years.

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The Commission will cover one third of the funding. The States will contribute at the same level and the private sector will be asked to complete. Within the Commission, this cost raises eyebrows. Resorting to commercial companies would be more advantageous, but Thierry Breton, the Commissioner in charge of space, of which it is a bit the baby, considers that European sovereignty is at stake and that it has no price.

This idea carried by France is beginning to make its way among the Twenty-Seven. The heads of government and then Parliament will still have to approve this project. It could be erected from 2024 and completed in 2027.

With the participation of the European Space Agency?

This is what the Commission wants. The agency is ready to provide its expertise on the issue, but this organization is distinct from the Twenty-Seven and it also has its own dreams. Its ambition is to relaunch manned space travel.

Today in Toulouse, the agency wishes to obtain an agreement in principle from its Member States. We will see if the priorities of the agency are compatible with those of the Twenty-Seven.

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