From your perspective as a satellite service and solutions provider, what would you say are the biggest shortfalls Europe is currently facing and where do Member States need to cooperate and invest more?

The EU SatCen is an operational centre supporting the decision making and actions of the European Union in the field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), in particular the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), by providing products and services resulting from the exploitation of relevant space assets and collateral data, including satellite and aerial imagery. 

For such a centre the image acquisition process is an essential issue, since SatCen doesn’t operate a space system and doesn’t have direct access to a sensor. Today, the European commercial suppliers efficiently provide Very High Resolution images but, for classified images, SatCen relies on the European governmental systems. In some cases, SatCen also resorts to non-European suppliers offering access to 25 cm resolution imagery. Thus, the access from European commercial companies to 30 cm optical imagery, but also to radar and infrared, in a reactive mode if needed, would constitute an important step. Regarding future governmental systems, a very operational access, including to programmation, would also bring a substantial additional capacity to the EU. In addition, a new challenge is appearing with the arrival of systems, in particular constellation of small satellites, allowing very short revisit times – a field where today Europe is absent.

Another issue concerns the secured transmission channels to deliver products and services: Today we rely on the EU Ops WAN network, but it cannot be used to provide large data volume products or services to end-users.

The necessity to simplify the access to the relevant information drives to offering integrated services, for example merging earth observation and localization data, allowing real-time navigation.

The EU Space Surveillance and Tracking Support Framework, launched in 2016, is a first step to address the protection of European spacecraft but it partially depends today on non-European data.

European autonomy, priority of the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy, requires addressing all these shortfalls.

How could Europe benefit more and in a better way from available civilian satellite technologies for meeting the needs of Member States’ Ministries of Defence (MoDs)?

In Europe, the military space budget is smaller than the civil one, unlike the US situation. This means that the civil technologies are fundamental for the development of military space programmes and associated services.

There are several ways to enhance a dual-use approach: using civil services/systems for military missions (ex. satcom for relaying drone data); using civil services/systems with improved performances only reserved for military users (ex. PRS Galileo or COSMO-SkyMed system); using civil satellites to perform military missions thanks to hosted payloads; and using civil technologies, improved in terms of robustness and security, for developing military space systems (ex. CSO spacecraft based on the Pleiades heritage). An important issue is to identify all potential users and needs, including military ones, for R&D activities.

How do you see the future of SatCen’s cooperation with the EDA? 

On 18 July 2016, the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the European Union Satellite Centre (SatCen) formalized their cooperation with an exchange of letters defining several areas of common interest. A joint road map has been established to run concrete projects to meet operational needs of end-users. The implementation of the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy and the European Defence Action Plan offers excellent opportunities.

Pascal Legai

Pascal Legai is SatCen Director since 1 January 2015. Previously, he had been SatCen Deputy Director (2010-2014),  Commanding Officer of the French Air Force Base in Grenoble (2008-2010), Human Resources adviser of the French Air Force (2006-2008) and Head of the French Imagery Intelligence Centre (2004-2006).

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