EU approves giant LEO constellation
February 15, 2023
By Chris Forrester
A meeting of the European Parliament on February 14th saw 604 members vote in favour of financing the IRIS² mega-constellation of low Earth orbiting satellites. Just six members objected.
The Parliament approved the plan to invest €2.4 billion (about $2.57 billion) in initial funding. The cash is drawn from Horizon Europe research fund (€430 million), and €220 million from Europe’s GovSatCom military satellite project. The European Space Agency is to invest €640 million, and this cash will start to be released in 2024.
Back in January, the Commission said that the first satellites in the constellation could be active during 2024 with a full deployment by 2027.
IRIS² is designed to provide highly-secure satellite communications for Europe’s governments and military. Other tasks include border surveillance, crisis management and secure communications for EU embassies.
The scheme calls for a fleet constellation of 450 satellites in low Earth orbit plus others in mid-Earth orbit and geostationary craft.
The scheme is planned as a ‘public/private’ partnership, and the concept is that other non-European nations will sign up commercially to the project especially African nations.
European Parliamentarian Christophe Grudler of France, who backed and guided IRIS², said the project will be an example to the world. He added that the African broadband coverage would be part of the commercial offer and will be deployed in a partnership with the largest telecom or satellite operators already in Africa.
“There are three-to-four big ones that understand the market and its connectivity needs,” Breton said. “They cannot bring connectivity everywhere, so we will be able to complement what they can do.”
SES, which is a member of a consortium looking to help build and operate the constellation, tweeted praise that this was a great day for satellite connectivity in Europe, and that it welcomed this “exciting project and look forward to the next steps”.