At an event held on 5 April at ESA Headquarters in Paris, more than eighty high-level representatives from the European space industry and government discussed project proposals for the ESA Govsatcom Precursor initiative, an ambitious undertaking to provide the European public sector with guaranteed access to secure satellite communications. It addresses governmental requirements in the areas of civil protection, border surveillance, humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, and other security applications.
In December 2014, the EU Competitiveness Council had underlined the need to avoid fragmentation of demand and to foster civil-military synergies for the preparation of the next generation of governmental satellite communication, through close cooperation among Member States, the European Defence Agency (EDA), the European Commission, and ESA. More recently the European Commission – as one of its priorities – performed a study identifying high-level civil user requirements for governmental satellite communications and is considering Govsatcom in its European Defence Action Plan 2016 and in its Space Strategy as a possible future concrete initiative.
Representatives from industry, ESA member states, EDA and the European Commission have accepted ESA's invitation to take preparatory action. Magali Vaissiere, Director of ESA's Telecommunications and Integrated Applications directorate. underlined ”We want to provide the European satellite industry with an opportunity to develop a new market of security solutions and services and help respond to the security challenges Europe and its citizens are increasingly being faced with. We welcome the strong response from our industrial partners to join us in our efforts. Together with EDA and the European Commission we have the ambition to successfully demonstrate a Europe taking timely action”.
Industry impressed with a number of technical innovations for Precursors to optimize and demonstrate pooling and sharing of existing national and European satellite communications resources. They also proposed Precursor developments of complementary new systems and services.
The Space Policy and Research Unit of the European Commission (DG GROW) remarked “We consider ESA’s Precursor initiative as useful since it will help prepare those European industries which will partner with ESA to respond to some of the technical requirementsunder definition. Continued cooperation between ESA, EDA and the European Commission is key while we define policy options for a possible future operational GOVSATCOM programme.”
In an excellent spirit of cooperation ESA, European Commission, and EDA have been performing preparatory work on Govsatcom since 2013 with feasibility studies led by each party and conducted in close coordination.
EDA is preparing a programme proposal to its Steering Board for early 2017, including a possible Initial Operations Capability. Gérard Lapierre, Programme Manager Satellite Communication at EDA said: ”There is an increasing need for more secure satcoms and guarantee of access and a broad range of defense user needs are calling for a high level of flexibility to have secure satcoms services at their disposal when and where needed. EDA, ESA and the European Commission are well synchronized today on the feasibility of such initiative, the preparations of precursors, possible set-up of an initial Operations Capability and the preparation of a future operational Govsatcom programme should Member States decide so.”
Industry is now expected to submit their consolidated Precursor project proposals to ESA by early May 2016. ESA may support industry in final optimization of proposals for best fit into an overall ESA programme. In consultation with its Member States and in coordination with EC and EDA, ESA will then define a ESA Govsatcom Precursor programme proposal for submission and decision at ESA’s Ministerial Council early December 2016.