PARIS — A consortium of European companies including space-hardware builders, satellite ground-network operators and aerospace-research institutes have been given 15 months to make the case that Europe’s evolving homeland-security program should include a substantial space element.

The industry consortium, led by EADS Astrium SAS of France, is one of seven industrial groupings that has won contracts with the Commission of the European Union (EU), which is preparing what some officials hope ultimately will blossom into an effort with financing equivalent to several hundred million dollars annually.

The Astro+ project (Advanced Space Technologies to Support Security Operations) will attempt to present to the EU Commission a detailed assessment of how space-based assets in telecommunications, navigation and positioning and Earth observation could be used to aid EU security-related efforts inside and outside Europe.

In addition to EADS Astrium, the Astro+ team includes Alcatel Space of Paris, Telespazio and Alenia Spazio of Rome, Indra of Madrid, Italy’s Institute of International Affairs (IAI), Britain’s Royal United Services Institute and the French Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS). The formal start of the project was scheduled for Jan. 20.

The project is expected to take several hypothetical emergency situations — a central African jungle landscape with small habitation areas, a second in a mountainous areas of the Middle East with villages nearby, and another using Afghanistan as an example — and match the requirements of European security forces there with applicable space technologies.

Astro+ is one of the first-round contract winners in the EU Commission’s Preparatory Action in the Field of Security Research. The program is budgeted at 65 million euros ($84.7 million) over three years and features cost-sharing between contract winners and the commission, with the commission paying up to 75 percent of project expenses.

The commission allocated 15 million euros for 2004. A similar sum is expected to be spent for second-round contracts to be signed in 2005, with the balance to be spent in 2006. Commission officials hope that a much larger effort, similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will begin in 2007.

Civil security and protection against terrorist threats is one of several ways that the EU is moving closer to a coordinated space-defense effort. Commission officials admit that the line between security- and defense-related applications in space is often difficult to distinguish.

Budgeted at just 2 million euros over 15 months, Astro+ “is not an effort to sell hardware to anyone,” said Alain Claverie, program manager at EADS Astrium. “What Astro+ will do is associate end-users with space-based capabilities. We will be proposing the use of space technologies only where appropriate. If drones or other technologies are more suitable for a given application, we will say so.”

The EU security-research program includes themes such as protection against bio-terrorism, security of networked systems, system interoperability and situation awareness. Commission officials and a panel of outside experts assigned to look at the problem agreed that space assets had a role to play and should be included in the program.

While not a military effort in the classic sense, the program includes ways of supporting European troops engaged in crisis management overseas.

The program has several overlaps with a separate EU and European Space Agency-led effort called Global Monitoring for Environment and Security. (GMES), for which the commission set aside 100 million euros as part of its 6th Framework Program on Research and Development, that runs from 2002 to 2006. The European Space Agency (ESA) has also committed resources to GMES.

The 7th Framework Program, to be adopted in April, will run from 2006 to 2010. Jack Metthey, outgoing director for space and transport in the EU Commissions Research Directorate, said the level of resources to be made available for space research, and specifically space-related security programs, cannot be predicted.

“We have pushed space and security research and we can say for sure that it will be in there,” Metthey said. “But the idea of a budget approaching 2 billion euros per year — well, we did not rubber-stamp this.” Metthey was referring to an experts’ group appointed by the EU Commission that suggested some 1.8 billion euros per year should be spent on homeland security-related programs.