Holger Lueschow EDA's, satellite communications program manager (left) and Hermann Ludwig Moeller, head of ESA’s Institutional and European Programmes Office (center), speak at Govaatcom for European Defence and Security 2016. Credit: govsatcom.lu

LONDON — The European Govsatcom demonstration project is on schedule to start providing secure satellite communications services to governmental users next summer, according to Holger Lueschow, satellite communications program manager at the European Defence Agency (EDA).

The Govsatcom project, which aims to address the gaps in access to timely, secure and affordable satellite communication services for European governmental users, will rely on pooling and sharing of assets of individual member states. The service will be further supplemented with assets of commercial providers.

“We have made a progress, we have already a common understanding of what services should be provided and how,” Lueschow said Nov. 7 at the Global Milsatcom conference here. “We have a common understanding of the business model and the role of the EDA. There are still challenges and later this month we will look at the question of how to finance the project, or more specifically, how to finance the services to be provided.”

The Govsatcom demonstration will form a basis for the future Govsatcom project that will be run by the European Commission. Tanja Zegers, from European Commission’s Space Policy and Research Department, said the commission is currently working on the legal framework that will form the basis of the future Govsatcom service following the completion of the demonstration.

“The commission decided to make a proposal for Govsatcom and this is now in the commission’s work program,” Zegers said at the conference. “We have gone through the impact assessment process, the stakeholder consultation and now we are essentially drafting the legislative act.”

She added the Govsatcom project aims to provide “mid-security level” satellite communications services — a higher level of security than typical commercial services but cheaper than dedicated military satellite systems.

“The intention is to have a publication of the legislative act at the beginning of next year and that will be published together with the impact assessment,” said Zegers. “This will give the start for the core decision process, which will again take a certain period of time.”

Govsatcom, which will be funded from the European Commission’s budget, is expected to become fully operational in 2020.

The service will be based on pooling and sharing of existing governmental resources, to be tested by the upcoming EDA demonstration, with additional services to be provided by commercial operators.

“We expect to have several scalable and flexible services for crisis management, for maritime and border surveillance but also for connectivity of EU delegations and member states’ embassies around the world,” Zegers said.

“There is a very strong security element in EU Govsatcom. There has to be a security accreditation process and this will be based on security requirements which will be set by the member states.”

The need for a Europe-wide governmental satellite communications system was acknowledged for the first time in 2013, Zegers said. Since then, the shortcomings and gaps in current services have become even more visible, she said.

Before settling on the pooling and sharing approach, Europe considered several alterantives, including building a dedicated satellite constellation.

The European Space Agency launched a Govsatcom Precursor program last year to explore new technologies that could be used in the future Govsatcom system.

Speaking Nov. 8 at Global Milsatcom, Hermann Ludwig Moeller, head of ESA’s Institutional and European Programmes Office, said the agency is studying optical communications technology and will soon start a project to look at quantum key distribution that could be used in the future Govsatcom system.

Tereza Pultarova is a London-based science and technology journalist and video producer, covering European space developments for SpaceNews. A native of the Czech Republic, she has a bachelors degree in journalism from the Charles University,...