New Members Dive Cautiously Into EU Military Space Programs

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  Space News Business

New Members Dive Cautiously Into EU Military Space Programs

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 24 October 2006
12:27 pm ET




BRUSSELS — Eastern European nations joining the European Union (EU) and the European Space Agency (ESA) voiced concerns about the difficulties in participating in ESA programs and whether a European military space effort would undermine NATO, officials from these countries said.

The European Union, now at 25 nations, is about to expand to 27. The 17-nation ESA is likely to grow to 22 members within five years, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said.

Joining these organizations means paying a fee based on gross domestic product and, in return, getting full access to ESA contracts and EU funding.

The two biggest ESA and EU space efforts are the Galileo satellite navigation project and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, or GMES, Earth observation system.

Both are multibillion-dollar efforts, and both have security implications that concern the new member states.

“If you ask most of the smaller new member states they will say, ‘We want to keep our NATO flag, because it works. We don’t know about the EU flag. There are issues concerning the military capability of Galileo and GMES,'” said Girts Valdis Kristovskis, vice chairman of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on defense and security and Latvia’s former defense minister.

Speaking here Oct. 16 at a conference on space-based security organized by Security & Defence Agenda, a Brussels think tank, Kristovskis said Latvia also is concerned that the established space powers in Europe do not want to use the resources available in the new member states.

Kristovskis said Latvia has a 32-meter-diameter space communications antenna that has features not found anywhere else in Europe, but years of discussion about how to integrate the former Soviet Union hardware into an EU or ESA program has produced no result.

Janusz Zielinski, head of the department of planetary geodesy a the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Center, said Poland views ESA as perhaps the world’s most efficiently run space agency and plans to join in the coming years.

But Zielinski said ESA’s recent overtures to Russia and China raise questions about the agency’s direction at a time when ESA is looking for greater involvement in security- and defense-related missions.

Zielinski said the recent decision by the Polish Defense Ministry to continue to use high-resolution optical satellite imagery provided by GeoEye of Dulles, Va., is an example of Poland’s hesitation to fully engage in Europe’s defense-related space program.

Zielinski also said Polish officials, while backing the Galileo project, have been surprised that a Galileo precursor called Egnos — similar to systems operating in the United States and Japan to augment U.S. GPS data — is still not fully operational.

Karel Dobes, chairman of the Czech Space Office, said his agency, which also plans to join ESA as a full member, is worried that the bigger ESA members and Europe’s main space-hardware manufacturers will make it difficult for new member states.

Dobes said one example is the paperwork that ESA requires of all its contractors.

“We don’t have such a problem with the money [needed to join ESA]. But the documentation and regulations — these are big problems for us,” Dobes said.

Astrium is one of the contractors Dobes had in mind. Gilles Maquet, Astrium senior vice president for institutional affairs, said ESA’s quality-control system does have its paperwork requirements and these by and large cannot be modified.

But Maquet also proposed what he termed a small-scale Marshall Plan for the new European member states to stimulate their use of space-based technologies, especially for telecommunications and Earth observation.

Maquet said EU programs exist that subsidize infrastructure, telemedicine, tele-education and other services and that these programs’ modest budgets could be partly used to jump-start a space technology user community in Eastern Europe.

Maquet said that a company like Astrium is not going to look to these new member states for industrial expertise or low-cost production. “That is not why they are important to us,” Maquet said. “They are important to us because they are members of the EU and as such they are participating in Galileo and GMES.”

Maquet said integrating the new nations into Europe’s space sector is best accomplished by stimulating their pent-up demand for space technology rather than by focusing on these nations’ limited supply of relevant expertise.

“The money is there in EU programs,” Maquet said. “This is not the problem. But providing them with low-cost VSATs [satellite telecommunications systems] or satellite imagery for agriculture and urban planning would stimulate their appetite for space solutions. The European Commission should help us with this.”