EU to go head to head with SpaceX and OneWeb with quantum encryption

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The European Union (EU) is about to put forward plans for a broadband satellite network using quantum encryption in service by 2024.

“The space sector is undergoing a massive transformation,” said Thierry Breton, European commissioner for the internal market.

“I consider Europe should equip itself with a space-based connectivity infrastructure and I will present to Member States and the European Parliament a legislative proposal to establish this initiative in the coming weeks,” he said. “We have tested its feasibility through studies over the past year with industries as well as start-ups. Details of its architecture will be presented in a few weeks.

The EU aims to have a multi-orbital system for both commercial and military use, combining constellations in low earth orbit (LEO) where SpaceX and OneWeb operate and targeted by other operators such as Amazon’ Kuiper project, with medium and geostationary orbit systems run by European operators such as SES, Eutelsat and Inmarsat.

“We will provide high-speed internet access for all Europeans, putting an end to dead zones and we will ensure redundancy with terrestrial infrastructures and thus allow Europe to remain connected whatever happens on terrestrial networks. It is imperative for our resilience,” he said.

“We will set up an ultra-secure infrastructure thanks to quantum encryption. Other regions across the globe are initiating it, Europe cannot lag behind on this technological dimension, which will condition the cybersecurity of tomorrow,” he said.

This will reduce European dependency on non-European commercial initiatives under development, he says, and also provide Africa with the necessary connectivity.

“Being a strategic constellation, we will make sure that the right governance and eligibility conditions are put in place to avoid any dependencies on third countries,” he said, in an echo of the European CHIPS Act to provide regional capability in semiconductors.

“We can hopefully conclude negotiations in a year’s time, and have the first services deployed already in 2024. It is ambitious, but feasible,” he said. This certainly implies the use of existing satellite networks, and will be a driver for the multi-network terminal technology being tested by Isotropic Systems and SES.

With the same timeframe, the EU has also prepared all the necessary contractual conditions for the second generation of satellites for the Galileo satellite navigation system, and expects to receive the first of these in 2024 with a launch the same year. These new satellite deigns will include digitally configurable antennas, inter-satellite links, new atomic clock technologies and fully electric propulsion systems.

“On launchers, Europe can rely on its historic launchers with Ariane and Vega, which are the result of decades of investments and accumulated know-how,” he said. “But here again, against strong competition, we must develop a fully-fledged European launcher strategy that will ensure its needs, its global position and its autonomy for the next 20 to 30 years.

He plans to formally launch the European Space Launcher Alliance shortly with a technology roadmap that consolidates the existing launchers with small and micro launchers.

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