TAMPA, Fla. — The European Investment Bank (EIB) said Jan. 11 it is lending SES 300 million euros ($323 million) as part of efforts to increase the competitiveness of Europe’s space industry.
The size of the seven-year loan, which the satellite operator said was secured “on attractive financial terms,” is the largest the European Union’s lending arm has provided a Luxembourg-based company in its 65-year history.
The scale of the financing “demonstrates how strategically important the space sector is for the EIB and the European Union,” EIB vice president Kris Peeters said.
The investment bank “shares the same goals as the European Commission to make European companies like SES successful and even more competitive,” Peeters added, because space “will only become more important in the future.”
The debt will support SES investments in three previously announced broadcast and broadband satellites: ASTRA 1P, ASTRA 1Q, and SES-26.
The financing covers “slightly below 50% of the overall costs of the entire program” for these three satellites, SES vice president of external communications Suzanne Ong told SpaceNews.
EIB investment rules prohibit the bank from financing more than 50% of the cost of a program.
Europe’s Thales Alenia Space is building all three satellites for launches to geostationary orbit next year.
ASTRA 1P and ASTRA 1Q, ordered in 2021, are Ku-band satellites designed to replace aging broadcast spacecraft at 19.2 degrees East, where SES serves major broadcasters across Germany, France, and Spain.
ASTRA 1Q has a software-defined communications payload which means it could be reprogrammed while in orbit to serve data markets if needed.
SES-26, also a software-defined satellite, was ordered last year to provide content and connectivity services with Ku and C-band frequencies from 57 degrees East, covering Europe, Africa, and Asia.
EIB said its financing is in line with the European Commission’s goal for all households in Europe to have access to at least 100 megabits per second of internet connectivity by 2025.
SES hopes to play a role in Europe’s $6 billion plans to deploy a multi-orbit connectivity constellation called IRIS² by 2027, which would help expand internet access while bolstering communications security for government needs.
In September, the European Space Agency (ESA) picked SES to lead the development of Eagle-1, a satellite aiming to demonstrate quantum encryption technology that could support IRIS², or Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite.
Europe’s efforts to beef up its space sector come amid calls from European space officials for more sovereign capabilities to keep up with China, the U.S., and other non-EU nations.
ESA member states agreed in November to provide the agency with 16.9 billion euros for the next three years — a 16.6% increase over the three-year budget set in 2019 before accounting for inflation, although less than what the agency sought.
Peeters said EIB has “had discussions with ESA [and the] European Commission to see what we can do also in the future, more than ever before, to stimulate the European space sector.”
Other space projects EIB has supported in recent years include a 200 million-euro loan for French operator Eutelsat’s Konnect VHTS broadband satellite, and 100 million euros in financing for Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 launch vehicle program.