Europe’s GOVSATCOM demonstrator contract awarded to Airbus

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Airbus has been tapped by the European Space Agency to build a demonstrator system that would enable dynamic sharing of government satellite capabilities between European Union member states for the purposes of the future European Governmental Satellite Communications (GOVSATCOM) secure communications program.

Airbus said the ground segment demonstrator would be based on the Newtec Dialog technology developed by Belgian company Newtec and will be installed at the Airbus site in Toulouse, France. The two-year contract also includes further developments to improve the Newtec technology.

Airbus says the innovation will enable mobile users to switch transparently from one satellite beam to another without jeopardizing the confidentiality of their operations.

According to Airbus spokesman Bruno Daffix, a demonstration of service capabilities will be organized in 2018, with the intent to offer those services on a commercial basis after the demonstration has been performed.

During the demonstration of services, Airbus will work with satellite fleet operators who will provide the satellite capacity, Daffix said, adding that the operators will be selected depending on the nature and location of the demonstration.

Daffix said the technology will be compatible with next generation beam shaping satellites and use dynamic capacity allocation along the service duration and demand evolution.

The platform will support a wide range of satcom terminals and use a scalable infrastructure, according to Daffix.

The project is funded through ESA’s GOVSATCOM Precursor program.

ESA develops GOVSATCOM jointly with the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the European Commission. The European Commission initiated the GOVSATCOM program in 2013 in recognition that only a few European countries own dedicated governmental satellites they could use for military communications or disaster management. Instead, governments have to compete for commercially available satellite capacity in situations that require immediate action.

In June this year, EDA’s Steering Board approved the first step in the GOVSATCOM development — a demonstration of pooling and sharing of satellite capabilities between participating governments.

Fourteen EU member states plus Norway participate in the GOVSATCOM demonstration under the leadership of Spain.

The GOVSATCOM program is the European Union’s attempt to create a single system enabling easy access to secure, reliable and affordable satellite communications services to all its member states.

While looking for an integrated pan-European solution similar to the global navigation satellite system Galileo or the Earth-observation program Copernicus, it is unlikely that GOVSATCOM would eventually expand into building a dedicated satellite constellation, ESA representatives said earlier this year.

The demonstration was preceded by two studies conducted between 2015 and 2017 that evaluated the needs of the European government users and looked at the major gaps in the accessibility of secure satellite communications services.