The 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA) expects to issue requests for bids by May to prepare for a security-focused Earth observation satellite to complement the civil-based Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program already under way, according to the head of ESA’s security office.

Erwin Duhamel said the invitations to tender will likely seek at least two parallel studies by competing industrial teams on how a military/security element could be integrated into GMES, which is being co-managed by ESA and the commission of the 27-nation European Union.

A separate request for design ideas is expected in May on a broader, system-of-systems project that ESA calls Gianus, or Global Integrated Architecture for Innovative Utilization of Space for Security. The Gianus idea is to collate existing security-related space systems in Europe on telecommunications, navigation and Earth observation into a single user-friendly interface.

A security-focused GMES addition and the Gianus work are examples of ESA’s stepping into areas that might otherwise be viewed as military but in Europe are not being addressed by individual defense ministries. ESA has stepped in to fill the gap — on its own, and with the budget-limited European Defense Agency and the European Commission — by arguing that almost all space systems are dual use in nature.

For some issues, individual governments have had their military budgets take part at least indirectly in ESA work. This has been the case with ESA’s three biggest members, France, Germany and Italy. Once ESA has laid the groundwork and collected user requirements, at least a part of the future development could be handed over to European military authorities.

“The military has other things to do with their money now,” Duhamel said. “This is why we want to tackle it at the civilian level and then to offer it to the military. Ministries of defense in Europe are all under pressure from the financial crisis.”