ESA Taps Thales Alenia Space for Drone Technology Work

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NEW YORK — Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy will study satellite communications technologies for unmanned aerial vehicles under a contract with the 19-nation European Space Agency (ESA), Thales Alenia Space announced Oct. 10.

The nine-month contract, whose value was not disclosed, follows an agreement between ESA and the European Defense Agency to work together on joint projects in which each agency would contribute funds. The agreement, announced in June, said that unmanned aerial vehicles would be one of the first areas of inquiry by the two agencies.

While it remains a fully civilian agency, ESA in recent years has been taking on work in dual civil-military space applications and has established a unit at its European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, Netherlands, that is dedicated to work requiring personnel with military clearances.

In an Oct. 12 statement, the European Defense Agency said that while it has begun cooperating with ESA on “a wide range of issues, including on unmanned aerial systems,” the agency has no involvement in the ESA contract with Thales Alenia Space.