Secure Connectivity – Time is of essence!

Date: November 16, 2021
Category: News
Autor: Ewelina Kaatz-Drzeżdżon

Main features of the EU Secure Connectivity Initiative and the new European constellation were discussed in the beginning of November by high-level institutional speakers, industry representatives and members of the European space industry during the EU Space Conference 2021. Panellists called for prompt actions, support for innovations and building on existing capabilities and the experience of European SatCom operators, launchers and manufacturers.

Connectivity is definitely the major strategic challenge that will mark the next decades. It will condition our industrial, economical, strategic power, as well as our digital sovereignty and societal resilience. Our competitors have understood this extremely well, and they are moving forward rapidly. Europe must to be left behind.” – said Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market, when addressing participants of the EU Space Conference 2021. That key message was communicated during the online conference dedicated to the EU Secure Connectivity Initiative which took place on 10 November 2021 and was organised under the auspices of the Slovenian Presidency of the European Union.

Among main premises underlying a quest towards the European autonomous and highly secure connectivity – listed by Commissioner Breton in his welcome address – is the provision of access to high speed broadband everywhere in Europe to overcome current regional connectivity divide, as well as resilient and secure communications to address European institutional and governmental needs. Reliable and resilient, fully secured connectivity infrastructure has also become imperative for financial, energy and transport sectors or data centres. Moreover, Europe should develop its sovereign infrastructure to ensure redundancy and back-up for terrestrial infrastructure.

Commissioner Breton pointed out the most important features that characterise the Secure Connectivity Initiative:

  1. Relying on multiorbital constellation for a faster deployment of services, a flexible response to various needs in terms of latency and broadband, and generating synergies with Copernicus and Galileo.
  2. Integrating disruptive technologies for performance excellence (e.g., through AI and data analytics) and exceptional robustness (e.g., through the use of quantum and encryption technologies).
  3. Shifting from a classical EU space infrastructure towards innovative digital infrastructure.
  4. Developing the EU value chain by integrating large companies, SMEs or start-ups across the EU territory and across different sectors.

Guillaume de la Brosse, Head of the Innovation, Start-ups and Economics Unit at DG Defence Industry and Space (DEFIS), mentioned additional two distinct features of the Secure Connectivity Initiative during the conference. These include security by design and close alliance between the public and private sectors, as the initiative will be developed within a public-private partnership (PPP). In addition, the New Space actors will be closely involved from the very beginning, such as SMEs and start-ups, as well as non-space actors ( e.g., digital companies). To explore how SMEs and start-ups envision an innovative secure connectivity infrastructure, an additional study on New Space solutions for long-term availability of reliable, secure, cost effective space based connectivity has been ordered by the European Commission.

Furthermore, de la Brosse argued that “space is about Europe’s sovereignty and it can’t be outsourced”. He claimed that timing is the key determinant of success. Prompt actions are necessary to safeguard Europe’s leadership and avoid any potential proliferation of activities undertaken by Member States. Competitiveness can be achieved only through a joint initiative and coordinated actions in the field of secure connectivity or space traffic management. In addition, de la Brosse claimed that it is imperative to recognise all possible synergies between defence and space. Just as Galileo meets both civilian and military needs, and space traffic management is dual-use by nature, the secure connectivity will deliver governmental and commercial services.

Another panellists at the EU Space Conference 2021, Aarti Holla-Maini – Secretary General of the EMEA Satellite Operators Association (ESOA), argued that unlike Copernicus and Galileo, SatCom represents a highly competitive market. “Existing constellations are driven by strong market players who can invest and have the agility and flexibility to react quickly to changing dynamics and requirements”, said Holla-Maini. She noticed that by the time the expected results of studies commissioned by the European Commission are disclosed, thousands of new satellites will have been launched. Holla-Maini made a strong argument that the Secure Connectivity Initiative is not only about a competitive space industry, but most importantly about ensuring that Europe gets its share of the global space economy. Since space and SatCom are embedded in tomorrow’s data driven economy, it is imperative for the EU to develop required knowledge, skills and jobs, and related business ecosystems within Member States.

All panellists agreed that if Europe does not attain technological sovereignty, it will have to rely on services sourced from other parts of the world. Elodie Viau – Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at European Space Agency (ESA), who was also a speaker of the EU Space Conference 2021, stated that boosting innovation will allow for a successful implementation of the Secure Connectivity Initiative and is also critical for the European space industry to remain competitive. Viau noted that the system will face shorter innovation cycles, about 5 to 7 years. She advocated for a modular, scalable approach and quick in space demonstrations. Additional effort is required to reduce manufacturing costs and achieve the economy of scale in manufacturing and production using Industry 4.0 approach, leveraging on the digitalisation of satellite production and testing. Close cooperation is also required with the space launch sector to develop cost-effective solutions enabling the launch of a required number of satellites on schedule. Viau stated that “innovation needs to be tackled timely and pragmatically with all the ecosystems including the New Space approach”.

Olivier Lemaitre – Secretary General at Eurospace, maintained that a modular, scalable approach provides an opportunity to be innovative in the general implementation of the secure connectivity infrastructure and system. He also recognised the need for initial services to be demonstrated as soon as possible. According to Lemaitre, as the USA has built on their space-based defence related infrastructure, the EU should build on their public services space-based infrastructure. Lemaitre also emphasised the importance of European sovereignty, stating that the infrastructure should be manufactured, launched and operated by EU actors.

The last panellist at the EU Space Conference 2021, Juan Tomás Hernani – CEO at SATLANTIS & Young European Enterprises Syndicate Space (YEESS), pointed out that attention should not be paid only to the functional perspective of satellite communications, but the secure connectivity constellation should be viewed as a platform that benefits other space activities that can provide a multiplying effect in the economy.

What are the next steps? De la Brosse explained that GOVSATCOM will be the first building block of the Secure Connectivity Initiative. Subsequently, the future constellation for secure connectivity will be used to improve Galileo signals, and thus enhance the performance and services of Galileo. Afterwards intersatellite linkages will be used for data relay within Copernicus, which will result in the creation of data centres. Secure connectivity constellation will also provide additional nodes for a more comprehensive space situational awareness (SSA).

The conference has been recorded and can be viewed on the EU Space Conference 2021 website.