Europe reaches funding deal for sovereign broadband constellation

by

TAMPA, Fla. — The European Union reached a provisional agreement Nov. 17 to cover nearly half the 6 billion euro ($6.2 billion) cost of deploying a secure connectivity constellation by 2027.

The European Parliament and member states agreed on a deal to contribute 2.4 billion euros from 2023-2027 for a sovereign network of satellites called IRIS², or Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite.

The financing would come from funding previously earmarked for other European programs over the period, with the private sector expected to provide the remaining 3.6 billion euros via public-private partnerships.

Europe said contracts for these partnerships would be awarded through a competitive process to build the infrastructure needed for the constellation, which Reuters reported could involve up to 170 satellites in low Earth orbit.

Initial services are slated to begin in 2024 ahead of full operational capability by 2027.

The 27 members of the European Union are due to endorse the provisional funding agreement Nov. 23, followed soon after by approval from the European Parliament.

The provisional agreement will become public after representatives of member states endorse it, said Arianne Sikken, a press officer for the Council of the European Union.

“After they agree, we can comment more in detail on the technical specifications,” Sikken said.

There will be other formalities left to clear following these steps, Sikken added, including approvals needed during a European Parliament plenary and from ministers convening at a European Council meeting.

Europe says its broadband constellation will be designed to meet evolving government and commercial connectivity needs. Credit: European Commission

The European Commission said Nov. 17 that IRIS² would have a multi-orbit approach that will help it scale to future needs. It also aims to leverage efforts Europe is already making to improve communications security through quantum cryptography.

As well as adding a non-geostationary element to Europe’s existing government communications assets in geostationary orbit, the constellation aims to provide commercial services for filling gaps in broadband access in parts of Europe and Africa.

The plans come amid various public-supported or subsidized non-EU constellations elsewhere, including the U.S., China, and Russia.

European space officials recently stressed the need for greater autonomy and sovereign capabilities, in general, to keep up with geopolitical trends.