Acknowledging that space capacities are “strategically important” not only to Europe’s civil and  commercial but also “security and defence-related policy objectives”, and that “Europe must draw on its assets and use space capacities to meet the security and safety needs of the Member States and the EU”, the Commission’s Space Strategy set the tone for an ambitious policy change in an area which, perhaps like no other, is predestined for greater synergies between its civil and defence dimensions. 

Hence the need to develop closer links between space technologies and European space programmes on the one hand, and Europe’s security and defence objectives on the other hand. Bringing the two together makes perfect sense since “space services can strengthen the EU’s response to growing security challenges by improving, for instance, the monitoring and control of flows which have security implications”, as stated in the strategy which was prepared under the lead of Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (see her interview).

However, to make this a reality, Europe has to reinforce the synergies between civil and security space activities.  “Most space technologies, infrastructure and services can serve both civilian and defence objectives. Although some space capabilities have to remain under exclusive national and/or military control, in a number of areas synergies between civilian and defence can reduce costs, increase resilience and improve efficiency. The EU needs to better exploit these synergies”, the strategy reads. 

To this end, the Commission restated its determination to closely collaborate with the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the EU SatCen, together with Member States and the European Space Agency (ESA) “to explore possible dual-use synergies in the space programmes”.  The new GOVSATCOM initiative providing resilient satellite communication services for governmental and institutional security users (see more details in box below), the first European dual-use effort in space and defence, is a perfect example for this new and successful inter-institutional cooperation.

The Commission also wants to further assess the potential of Copernicus and Galileo/EGNOS to meet EU autonomy and security needs and improve the EU’s capacity to respond to challenges related to migration, border control and maritime surveillance. “To this end, the Commission will strengthen security requirements when developing these systems and will reinforce synergies with non-space observation capacities (e.g.  unmanned aerial vehicles)”.

Maintaining Europe’s autonomous access to space

Another key aspect of the Space Strategy is the Commission’s attachment to Europe’s “autonomous, reliable and cost-effective access to space”. “Europe needs to ensure its freedom of action and autonomy. It needs to have access to space and be able to use it safely”, it stresses. Therefore, “access to the radio frequency spectrum must be guaranteed and protected from interference in full complementarity with the Radio Spectrum Policy's aim of maximum spectrum usage efficiency”

In the next 10-15 years the EU plans to launch more than 30 satellites for its Galileo and Copernicus programmes, notably in the class of the future European-built launchers such as Ariane 6 and Vega C, making the EU the largest European institutional customer. The Commission said it will therefore aggregate the launch service needs of EU programmes and act as a smart customer of European reliable and cost-effective launch solutions. 

“It is crucial that Europe continues to have modern, efficient and flexible launch infrastructure facilities. In addition to measures taken by Member States and ESA, the Commission will consider ways to support such facilities within its areas of competence, for example through its contracts for launch services or other instruments where this is needed to meet EU policy objectives or needs”. 

The Commission also wants to complement the efforts of Member States, ESA and industry in addressing long-term research and innovation needs, including low-cost access to space for small satellites; advanced manufacturing; breakthrough concepts (such as re-usability); mitigating environmental impacts; and providing regular opportunities for European in-orbit validation services for new technologies and products to be used in space. It will also encourage the development of commercial markets for low-cost small launch systems or for commercial space activities such as spaceflight or suborbital space tourism.

Protection of critical European space infrastructure 

The proliferation of space debris remains the most serious risk to the sustainability of space activities and will continue to be addressed at European and international level. The EU has dealt with this issue through the implementation of the EU space surveillance and tracking (SST) support framework which has now started delivering operational services based on a pool of Member States’ capacities.

The Commission will reinforce the SST support framework to improve the performance and geographical coverage of sensors. It will consider extending its scope to address other threats and vulnerabilities, for example cyber threats or the impact of space weather on satellites and on ground infrastructure such as transport, energy grids and telecommunication networks. 

In the long term, this SST model could evolve into a more comprehensive space situational awareness service, building on existing activities in the Member States and ESA, and taking into account international cooperation frameworks, particularly with the US.

In the long term, this SST model could evolve into a more comprehensive space situational awareness service, building on existing activities in the Member States and ESA, and taking into account international cooperation frameworks, particularly with the US.

The full text of the Commission’s ‘Space Strategy for Europe’ is available here.

GOVSATCOM: A model of cooperation between EDA, ESA and EC 

Reliable, stable and secure communications are crucial in any CSDP mission or operation. Yet, terrestrial network infrastructures are not available everywhere, for instance in areas hit by natural disasters, at sea, in the air or in hostile zones. Satellite communications (SATCOM) can be the solution: rapidly deployable, flexible and distance insensitive, they offer communication links where terrestrial networks are damaged, overloaded or non-existent.

However, access to SATCOM cannot be taken for granted at any time, especially not when government users require them at short notice and without pre-arranged agreements. In situations of high demand, competition with other users of commercial SATCOM capacities creates a risk of non-availability and high costs. Against this backdrop, European Heads of State and Government decided in 2013 that there was a need for a new solution combining the advantages of commercial and military satellite systems in order to address both civil and military needs through European cooperation. No sooner said than done: the European Defence Agency (EDA), in collaboration with the European Commission (EC) and the European Space Agency (ESA), is now preparing the next generation of Governmental Satellite Communications (GOVSATCOM).

This initiative, aiming at the pooling and sharing of relevant governmental satellite systems and commercial solutions, is intended to provide a secure and guaranteed access to end-to-end satellite communication solutions to a wide range of civil and military users between 2025 and 2040. Dual-use by nature, GOVSATCOM will be a capability that is placed in between the commercial satellite communication (COMSATCOM) market and the highly protected military satellite communication (MILSATCOM) capability, the latter being characterised by nuclear hardening, anti-jamming/dazzle features and secure telemetry, tracking and command links, supplemented by associated robustness and resilience in the ground segment.  

“In a nutshell, GOVSATCOM will thus be secure and resilient to ensure that information passes swiftly even in hostile environments. The objective is also to keep it affordable for end users in terms of terminal cost and service access, as well as flexible and guaranteed so as to provide communications where and when needed. It should also support the European satcom industry by boosting competitiveness and innovation as well as strengthen Europe’s technological independence”, says Holger Lueschow, EDA’s Programme Manager in charge of satellite communication.

Although highly complex from an institutional, political and technical point of view, the project is making remarkable headway: in March 2017, the EDA Steering Board (in Member States’ Capability Directors formation) approved the Common Staff Requirement for GOVSATCOM and the associated Business Case that recommends a pooling and sharing demonstration of governmental resources provided by a consortium of EDA Member States, and used by all Member States that intend to participate in this demonstration project as well as European civil and military CSDP actors.

The legal arrangement for this project is currently negotiated between the interested users (all EDA Member States). The start of the project, which could pave the way into a European GOVSATCOM capability, is foreseen for early 2018. 

EDA-SATCEN cooperation in good shape 

In July 2016, the EDA and the European Union Satellite Centre (SATCEN) formalized their close and fruitful cooperation, already in place since 2004, with an exchange of letters between Jorge Domecq (EDA Chief Executive) and Pascal Legai (SATCEN Director). Both organisations perform complementary roles and activities in the space-based earth observation domain and more generally in the space and security sector. Whereas the EDA’s work is focused on the harmonisation of requirements and the promotion of appropriate schemes for future capability development, SATCEN’s activity supports the decision making and actions of the EU by providing products and services resulting from the exploitation of space assets in particular in the CSDP field. 

Since 2004, EDA and SATCEN have collaborated on projects as important as GISMO (Geospatial Information to Support Decision Making in Operations) and GISMO 2, SULTAN (Persistent Surveillance Long Term Analysis) and REACT. With the exchange of letters, the EDA and SATCEN establish a more structured cooperation meaning that they will even more focus on activities of mutual interest, such as studies, workshops, projects and programmes. EDA and SATCEN have also identified specific cooperation areas such as imagery exploitation, geospatial analysis and applications, future space-based earth observation systems, cyber defence, Big Data exploitation in the space and security domain, space situational awareness or maritime surveillance. The two Agencies will also develop a joint roadmap for cooperation detailing the activities of common interest as included in the respective work programmes. The roadmap will be updated annually.

REACT: EDA study to boost imagery intelligence 

‘Imagery intelligence’ (IMINT) is information derived from the analysis of imagery from several types of sensors: electro-optical, radar, infrared, multi-spectral or laser. Typical platforms providing this information are unmanned aerial vehicles, reconnaissance aircraft and ground systems. Also, with their powerful imagery capabilities and immunity from ground threats, satellites are key IMINT platforms. Consequently, in 2014, the European Defence Agency (EDA) was tasked by its Member States “to develop tools and applications to support EU operations with improved geo-information and satellite imagery, in coordination with EU Satellite Centre (EU SATCEN) and European External Action Service (EEAS)…”

The EDA commissioned the REACT study (Radar imagery applications supporting ACTionable intelligence) which was conducted in 2016 by a consortium composed by e-GEOS, Telespazio Ibérica and INTA. The objective was to give greater value to imagery data though identifying areas where military imagery analysts can be assisted by tools/workflows to produce valuable and possibly actionable intelligence.  The study focused on the use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery with data preparation and product interpretation being at the centre. Workflows were divided by: target analysis, searching, monitoring, planning and damage assessment. 

The study was completed in February 2017. Its main output was the ‘Workflow Description Document’ which, from now on, will serve as a comprehensive reference providing advice and assistance to Member States’ imagery analysts in the production of actionable intelligence with satellite radar data. The outcome is increased knowledge in the use of radar imagery by the military communities. “The REACT study has already had a positive impact. For instance, it has enhanced imagery operators’ abilities to manage the complexity of working with radar imagery, especially by providing practical information on the various steps of the workflows to be followed”, says Chris Stace, the Head of EDA’s Information Superiority Unit, and going on to say, “REACT also helped to establish credible working procedures for radar imagery exploitation. The work undertaken also allowed us to evaluate new tools and sophisticated algorithms for radar imagery exploitation, such as Automatic Target Detection & Recognition.” 

Given the value of the REACT study, EDA has been tasked to take forward the work within a follow-on project in 2017/2018.  Working again with the EU SATCEN, the focus will be on making SAR IMINT workflows more efficient through defining operating procedures and the use of business process workflow tools.  One key objective is to increase the speed of analysis within the radar IMINT tasking cycle. Mr Stace highlights, “working with operators in the SATCEN and with expertise from Member States, EEAS and FRONTEX will add real operational benefits to be developed within crucial IMINT tasks supporting EU-led missions and operations.”

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