Luxembourg eyes Earth-observation satellite for military and government

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The plan is to deploy a commercial asset but "managed by the government."

 LONDON —  Luxembourg is considering building an Earth-observation satellite for governmental and military purposes that would add a new capability to the expanding space assets of the European nation with population of just 580,000.

Luxembourg’s Directorate of Defence has recently launched a study and is already in talks with a preferred contractor, according to Geoffroy Beaudot, space program manager.

“We are already engaged with a company to develop this Earth observation program. We have already found some technical specifications and what we want exactly,” Beaudot told SpaceNews at the Global MilSatCom Conference here Tuesday.

“We want zero risk, we don’t want a new development. We just want to take existing components to deliver a satellite to deliver services and high value assets for institutions, allies and so on.”

The low-Earth-orbit sun-synchronous mission will carry a panchromatic and multispectral camera. Beaudot said the craft will be “a commercial asset but managed by the government,” providing services to governmental entities and armed forces of Luxembourg and its allies.

Beaudot expects the contract to be officially awarded in 2018 with a target delivery and launch date of the craft in 2021.

Boasting the second highest gross domestic product per capita in the world, Luxembourg is heavily investing into its space program. According to Beaudot, space and cyber capabilities feature high on the list of priorities included in the country’s strategic defense guidelines published in July this year.

The country, a founding member of the EU as well as NATO, expects to launch its first governmental communication satellite GovSat1 in January 2018.

According to Patrick Biewer, GovSat’s CEO, the satellite will be delivered by manufacturer Orbital ATK to Cape Canaveral in December ahead of the January launch aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

The geostationary satellite, to be positioned at 21.5˚E will provide coverage over Europe, Africa, the Middle East, as well as the Mediterranean and Baltic Sea and portions of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

The GovSat project is delivered by a public-private joint venture between the government of Luxembourg and satellite operator SES.

“GovSat-1 will be used for our own troops but it is also a way for Luxembourg to contribute to collective defense capabilities of our allies,” said Beaudot. “It is not a commercial system but a governmental one. We, as the Department of Defence, operate the system. We are offering secure solutions to the government and our allies.”

Beaudot added that the venture fits into the nascent Govsatcom initiative – a European project that aims to improve accessibility to and affordability of secure satellite communication services by sharing and pooling assets of individual member states.

Luxembourg is also part of the group of countries backing the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) 9 satellite. WGS-9, funded jointly by Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand, was launched in March this year. The contribution gives the countries access to the U.S.-controlled WGS military communications system.