The war in Ukraine changes the priorities of European government agencies
European civil and military space organizations are revising their budgets, programs and policies in light of the war in Ukraine.
“For ESA, one of the lessons learned from the conflict is that we need to have an autonomous transport capability,” said Stefaan De Mey, European Space Agency’s head of strategy for human exploration and robotics, during a round table at World Satellite Business Week. “That’s actually the number one problem.”
Defense agencies, on the other hand, have recognized the value of commercial space services.
“The United States’ NewSpace strategy is currently working,” Colonel Guillaume Bourdeloux, commander of France’s Space Command Space Operations Brigade, said during a panel on military space at World Satellite Business Week. “The use of contracted services for satellite observation, not to mention communications, is currently essential for Ukraine.”
The European space sector continues to deal with the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Roscosmos’ decision announced in February to halt Soyuz launches from French Guiana in response to European sanctions has left ESA scrambling to find alternative transport for Galileo navigation satellites, the EarthCARE science mission and the space telescope. Euclid infrared. Without Soyuz, France is also looking for a way to launch its CSO-3 reconnaissance satellite.
“We cannot be dependent on other partners to launch our satellites,” French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told the International Astronautical Congress. “We cannot tolerate this.”
The demand for European-specific launch capabilities is reflected in proposals for increased funding for space agencies in general and launchers in particular. At the November Ministerial Council, ESA will request €18.7 billion, an increase of around 25% in funding from member states.
In addition to supporting Ariane 6, which is due to fly for the first time next year, and Vega C, which is expected to deliver a pair of Airbus Defense and Space Pléiades Neo Earth observation satellites to low Earth orbit in its second flight in November, commercial launcher developers expect the war in Ukraine to increase funding for their efforts in Europe.
“The war in Ukraine has certainly underscored the fact that people want to have their own capabilities from a policy flexibility perspective,” said Lee Rosen, chief operating officer of Skyrora Ltd., a Scotland-based launcher developer, in an interview. “If Ukraine had the capability to replenish its own reconnaissance satellite capability or satellite communications capability, I’m sure they would be very happy to do so.”
Military space agencies, meanwhile, should increase funding for Earth observation, space situational awareness, and communications.
The war in Ukraine demonstrated the value of various Earth observation satellites, including optical constellations offering frequent revisit rates, radar satellites and radio frequency monitoring constellations, Bourdeloux said.
The value of satellite communications was underscored early in the war by the Russian cyberattack that took tens of thousands of Viasat modems offline.
“Communications from space are essential in this war in terms of tactical effectiveness, but also command and control,” Bourdeloux said. “NewSpace is here, and it works.”
The conflict in Ukraine has also highlighted the importance of spatial situational awareness.
Three months before Russian tanks crossed the Ukrainian border, Russia destroyed one of its own satellites with a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile.
From that moment on, the French Space Command became more and more interested in knowledge of the space domain.
“What we see from the perspective of French Space Command is actually the start of orbital warfare,” Bourdeloux said. “We see tactics unfolding in space, where the competitor is trying to trick us so that we don’t see them and understand what they’re doing. Of course, this is just the beginning, and we want to make sure we can detect and attribute these issues. »
Since the start of the war, Luxembourg has reviewed its space priorities. Before the conflict, Luxembourg was investing in the development of the future capabilities of its armed forces. Now the focus is on the short term.
“We are very focused on providing equipment and systems that can be used by the armed forces,” said Geoffroy Beaudot, head of space and cybersecurity at the Defense Directorate of the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Europeans. For example, Luxembourg has made it a priority to provide commercial Earth observation and satellite communication services that can be used directly by the Ukrainian armed forces because “the national assets that we have in Luxembourg cannot be directly attributed to the Ukrainian force as they could be considered a weapon system used by forces outside of NATO countries,” he added.
For the Madrid-based European Union Satellite Center (SatCen), which provides geospatial intelligence and training, the war has caused a change in pace rather than priorities.
“It definitely took us away from some sort of normal rhythm,” SatCen Director Ambassador Sorin Ducaru said. “SatCen used to be available 24/7, but now the call was always there. This unprecedented situation has accelerated the pace and speed of reactivity.
The conflict also highlighted the need to automate Earth observation tasks, “to have automatic recognition of infrastructure or military equipment,” Ducaru said. “It has reinforced the recognition of the value of these geospatial analysis capabilities.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of SpaceNews magazine.