EU introduces space strategy
Conclusion by associate professor of astropolitics and space warfare Dr. Bleddyn Bowen
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EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence
Over a weekend when most news and social media feeds were consumed with talk of the collapse of Silicone Valley Bank, it was easy to miss that the Europe Commission published its first dedicated space strategy for security and defence.
According to the document’s conclusion, the strategy “demonstrates the EU’s commitment to protecting its security interests while preventing an arms race in outer space, and accelerating synergies between space, security, and defence.” Although the document has clearly been written with echoes of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the space-based methods that have been utilized, direct references to the conflict itself are scarce. The authors have instead tried to focus on a long-term outlook with many potential adversaries and partners in mind.
Below I have given a few of my thoughts about some key aspects featured within the 17-page document. The conclusion, however, I have reserved for someone who has a deep and hard-earned knowledge of military space policy. If you read nothing else in this issue, I recommend skipping down and reading the conclusion.
Context and history
Over the last four years, there have been no fewer than four anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests. The first was conducted by India in March 2019 and the other three by Russia from April 2020 to November 2021. The most recent Russian test caused a debris cloud in orbit around Earth, remnants of which still threaten assets in space today with the International Space Station having to conduct maneuvers to avoid debris from the test on several occasions.
Direct-ascent ASATs are, however, only a small section of the weapons available to nations to target satellites in orbit. Directed energy weapons including lasers can be used to dazzle a satellite damaging onboard electronics and thus disabling the satellite. Despite denying an offensive use, China, Russia, and the USA have all also proven close inspection and precision manoeuvring vehicles in GEO. These vehicles could be used for the ramming or even hijacking of target satellites. All these options do, however, require a level of technical and budgetary competence to utilize. A far more budget-friendly option is cyber warfare.
On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. As troops were flooding over the border, a Russian cyberattack targeting a Viasat KA-SAT satellite was also underway. The attack impacted several thousand customers located in Ukraine, but it also affected, according to Viasat, tens of thousands of other fixed broadband customers across Europe. The attack not only caused communication outages in several EU member states but also unrepairable damage to customer modems.
Although significant, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, which has tracked significant cyber incidents since 2006, this is only the third recorded cyberattack on a satellite. The first occurred in November 2011, with US news sources reporting that Chinese hackers had "interfered" with two satellites belonging to NASA and USGS. The other significant cyberattack on a satellite was recorded in March 2012 when two BBC satellite feeds were jammed from transmitting to Iran. The BBC's Director General blamed Iran for the incident. However, there potentially could be additional cyberattacks perpetrated against satellites in orbit that just didn't make it into the media.
A month to the day following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022, the EU heads of state endorsed the Strategic Compass which outlined a roadmap for the union to strengthen its security and defence. According to the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) the roadmap had been rewritten over the preceding month to emphasize the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Interestingly, CEPS raised the question of whether this focus on Russia might detract from the threat posed by China and the importance of the Indo-Pacific region.
The Strategic Compass outlined a need for a space strategy for security and defence as one of several responses to current and fast-emerging threats.
"A new EU Space Strategy for security and defence will help us build a common understanding of space-related risks and threats, develop appropriate responses and capabilities to react better and faster to crises, strengthen our resilience, and make full use of the benefits and opportunities linked to the space domain."
The roadmap set a deadline of the end of 2023 for the adoption of an EU space strategy for security and defence.
An overview of the new strategy
The EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence as it was published on 10 March 2023 acknowledges that space and the infrastructure that operates there are crucial for everyday life and for defence and security applications in particular. It outlines a streamlined approach to the manner in which the European Union develops, manages, and protects space systems and services that are vital to security and defence. In order to do this, it describes five primary pillars, each with its own challenges and opportunities.
Ensuring a shared understanding of space threats
Enhancing the resilience and protection of space systems and services in the EU
Strengthening the collective ability of the EU to respond to any attacks and threats putting at risk the EU's security interests
Developing dual-use space capabilities, including for security and defence purposes
Fostering global partnerships
In order to ensure a minimal impact on the EU budget, the strategy proposes utilizing budgets from existing programmes including the European Defence Fund, Horizon Europe, EU Space programme, and IRIS2.
EU Space Law
To ensure a consistent EU-wide approach, the Commission has been directed to consider an EU Space Law. The legislative proposal will provide a framework within which the EU will be able to collectively enhance the level of resilience of space systems and services in the Union and ensure coordination between Member States.
The new legislation could implement minimum requirements to ensure security and in particular, cybersecurity is part of the design of all space systems delivering essential services. If "essential services" sounds vague to you, it did to me too. This could potentially place a significant burden on commercial startups that are deemed to offer an essential service. An example of such a service could be space situational awareness, which the strategy also identifies as a key capability for Europe's space security and defence.
Supply chain robustness for critical services will also likely be an element of the EU Space Law when it is proposed. This will include minimising the number of suppliers from outside the EU and reducing the number of sole-source contracts awarded.
As a first step towards working towards an EU Space Law, stakeholders will be consulted to assess the exact nature and application of the new legislation. The strategy does not outline any specific deadline for the adoption of the new legislation.
A commitment to support microlaunchers?
Unsurprisingly, the strategy highlights autonomous access to space as being an essential element of EU’s space security and defence infrastructure.
"EU autonomous access to space is essential for the resilience of space infrastructure in the EU, including for the replenishment of constellations, the replacement of individual satellites or the deployment of future constellations."
With this need identified, the document makes it clear that current institutional launch programmes are not going to be sufficient to ensure autonomous access to space. This is a hard point to dispute considering the fact that the EU will have no way to launch payloads into orbit following the retirement of Ariane 5 this year until Vega C is returned to flight and Ariane 6 is debuted. While Vega C may very well make its return to flight by the end of the year, the currently targeted late 2023 debut of Ariane 6 appears unlikely.
"Responsiveness and versatility in access to space are essential for ensuring that growing military and defence needs are met," states the strategy.
To ensure this responsiveness and versatility, the strategy calls on the EU to stimulate the development of launch systems including microlaunchers and reusable launchers in addition to an agile manufacturing industry. It also calls for the development of innovative in-orbit transportation solutions that could be utilized for serving and mission extension applications.
However, despite calling on the EU to develop these solutions, the document is surprisingly thin on specific mechanisms to do so. It does not identify current programmes that could be exploited to do so nor does it give concrete deadlines for the support of these initiatives.
Space situational awareness
Under the responding to space threats strategic section, the detection and characterization of space threats is identified as a key capability. This is not surprising as a clear view of the battlefield has always been a vital capability of warfare.
In order to enable the near real-time collection and analysis of threats that affect space systems, the strategy proposes an information exchange that would be provided through the EUSPA (European Union Agency for the Space Programme). It goes on to state that "Member States that own and develop the relevant capabilities should provide the necessary SDA (space domain awareness) services to the EU to ensure its strategic autonomy in the space domain."
France has several space situation awareness assets, including GRAVES, TAROT, and GEOTracker, which is owned and operated by ArianeGroup. Germany also has several including GESTRA and TIRA as does ESA, which are managed under the agency's Space Safety Programme Office. There are also commercial startups like Share My Space that are developing space situational awareness capabilities.
In order to enable the sharing of this information, the Commission has committed to establishing an Information Sharing and Analysis Centre (EU Space ISAC) with the support of EUSPA. The EU Space ISAC is expected to be established by the end of 2023.
In the only time Ukraine is mentioned in the 17-page document, the strategy notes that space-based Earth observation capabilities have proven to be "a game-changer for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to resist the Russian attacks." As a result, the strategy highlights the need to ensure the EU develops advanced Earth observation capabilities, and what better way to do so than leaning on one of the most advanced Earth observation constellations.
The strategy admits that Copernicus was not "designed to comply specifically with defence requirements." This is a nice way of saying that it was specifically designed for civil uses with, among other applications, a focus on collecting data in an effort to mitigate global warming. Nonetheless, the strategy calls for an EU Earth observation governmental service which will provide a value-added service to national capabilities with new sensors, frequent revisits, and advanced processing techniques.
The Commission has committed to gradually implementing this evolution of Copernicus services. It will be interesting to see how this affects Copernicus satellites that are currently under construction or are already complete and awaiting launch. Copernicus 1C, for instance, is expected to be launched aboard the Vega C return to flight mission towards the end of the year.
I understand the utility of utilizing Copernicus for security and defence Earth observation application however, I question what will take priority: the monitoring of adversaries or the monitoring of Earth's climate. My instinct is that Earth isn't going to win that one.
An extension of territorial borders?
The “attributing and reacting to hostile behaviours in the space domain” section, to me has the single most significant paragraph of the document. The paragraph appears to nudge against current EU Treaty Articles to extend the definition of what constitutes an attack on a Member State.
"Any Member State can invoke the mutual assistance clause enshrined in the EU Treaties (Article 42.7 of the Treaty of the European Union), should a space threat or incident amount to an armed attack on its territory," states the strategy.
Let's first take a look at the referenced article. According to Article 42.7 of the Treaty of the European Union, "if a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter."
Now to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter which states that "nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security."
I am no lawyer, but Article 42.7 of the Treaty of the European Union appears to make it clear that the provision is enacted only when an attack occurs on a member state's territory. The EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence paragraph, however, appears to muddy the waters by implying that there are instances under which a space threat or incident could amount to an armed attack on its territory. Worryingly the document does not detail under what circumstances this may be applied. For instance, could the February 2022 Viasat KA-SAT satellite attack be considered an armed attack on the affected EU Member States since the attack caused physical damage to infrastructure? Or does the armed imply the need for a weapon like an ASAT missile?
As my knowledge of the politics and policy of European military space strategy is far from extensive, I sought the input of a true expert in the field, Dr. Bleddyn Bowen, to provide a conclusion. Dr. Bowen serves as the associate professor of astropolitics and space warfare at the University of Leicester and has recently published his newest book, Original Sin: Power, Technology and War in Outer Space
“It’s an ambitious blueprint for developing the military elements of the European Union’s emerging status as a comprehensive space power. Many of the capabilities and programmes in the strategy document are not new. Some are renamed old initiatives, so it remains to be seen at what pace the EU will develop new systems like IRIS, information sharing centres, and support the EEAS’ space portfolio. Questions over funding and timescales remain. Realising these comprehensive space power ambitions won’t be cheap or easy. Europe collectively is struggling to match Chinese and American investments in reusable rocket technologies, and Indian successes as an economically competitive and reliable launch provider, specifically with their PSLV. However, this strategy should be music to the ears of people in Washington DC.
Perennial US complaints about Europe not taking military space issues seriously should end with both NATO and the EU now explicitly talking about the need for more European military space capabilities and coordination, and ways to respond to the real, chronic threats posed by some countries to NATO and EU space infrastructure. Encouragingly, the EU is now suggesting incorporating navigation warfare (NAVWAR) packages onto future generations of the Galileo GNSS. 15 years ago, European space agencies would struggle to utter the word ‘security’ let alone ‘defence’ in space projects, and many European governments would not recognise security threats posed by other military forces in space. Now the debate isn’t about whether there are military space threats, but what to do about them.”
The future is bright - The Swiss student-driven Gruyère Space Program unveiled its Colibri rocket. The 2.45-metre-tall rocket is described by its builders as "the first student-built rocket hopper." Tethered testing is expected to begin later this year with free flights up to a maximum altitude of 100 metres with a flight time of around one minute to follow.
Bring a housewarming gift - After five years of refurbishment, ESA has announced that it is ready to once again welcome representatives from its 22 Member States to its headquarters in Paris. The official opening of the new “ultra-modern” HQ will occur on 22 March.
Again?! - e-GEOS, a joint venture between Telespazio and the Italian Space Agency, has been reconfirmed as the head of the consortium that provides the Emergency Management Service (EMS) Rapid Mapping services for the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. This is the fourth time the €36 million contract has been renewed with e-GEOS at its head. The new contract will run from 2023-2029 as part of the operational division of the Copernicus programme.
A French agreement - French launch startup Latitude has signed a letter of intent with French aerospace and defence company HEMERIA. The pair will "collaborate to support the development of complete space solutions." It's not exactly clear what the agreement entails from the press release, but it appears to be for the launch of HEMERIA assets aboard Latitude's Zephyr rocket.
To the Moon! - The UK Space Agency announced that it had made £1.6 million in funding available for eight projects seeking to support space exploration using Moon resources and nuclear power through its Enabling Space Exploration fund. The University of Exeter, the University of Southampton, the Open University, MAC SciTech, Bangor University, and Thales Alenia Space were all recipients of funding. The largest single award went to the University of Exeter which received £363,000 for its fluorescent deep space petri-pod flight readiness programme. However, the Open University received £400,000 in total across two projects. You can view a full breakdown of the projects and the funding received here.
It’s erect! - Spanish launch startup PLD Space successfully transported its Miura 1 flight model from its headquarters in Elche to the El Arenosillo Experimentation Center in Huelva where it will be launched. The trip is around 700 kilometres. Following a successful delivery, the rocket went vertical atop its launchpad in preparation for its debut. PLD Space is currently targeting Q2 of 2023 for the launch.
No naming competition for this one? - German launch startup Rocket Factory Augsburg revealed the name and a first look at the engine that will power its Redshift OTV. The Fenix engine is powered by a green nitromethane-based fuel. The Redshift OTV will be utilized in conjunction with the RFA ONE which is expected to debut later this year. The OTV will add a number of capabilities to the RFA ONE offering including last-mile delivery, debris removal, and in-orbit maintenance, refueling, and monitoring.
A second chance - The Australian Space Agency announced that it would be providing funding to send UK-Australian citizen Katherine Bennell-Pegg, who currently serves as the Director of Space Technology for the agency, for ESA basic astronaut training. According to ESA astronaut reserve Dr. Meganne Christian, Bennell-Pegg had been a part of the most recent ESA astronaut selection process, narrowly missing out on a spot. It's currently unclear if the Australian Space Agency will fund a flight to space for Bennell-Pegg following the completion of her training.
Let there be fire! - French launch startup OPUS Aerospace announced that it had completed a successful long-duration hot fire test of its Torgos rocket engine. The engine will be utilized aboard the company's suborbital Mesange rocket. Although no information about the suborbital vehicle is featured on the company's website, the vehicle is likely a tech demonstrator for its larger Sterne orbital launch vehicle.
Welcome to the party amigo - Spain’s Council of Ministers has approved a statute that formally grants the new Spanish Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Española) approval to commence its operations. The new agency will manage Spain’s strategic action in the field of space, both from the point of view of its technological development and the use of space in areas such as security, earth observation, geolocation, and telecommunications. It will be based in Seville, have an initial budget of €700 million for its first year of operation, and an initial staff of 75.
Yes to fewer airline delays - ESA announced that ITA Airways will be the latest airline to equip its aircraft with Iris systems. Iris enables air traffic controllers to manage the skies more efficiently using a high bandwidth satellite datalink between the aircraft and the ground. The Italian national carrier will equip all its new aircraft with the Iris technology, which is currently supported by air traffic controllers in 14 countries across Europe. According to EUROCONTROL improved air traffic management could cut emissions of carbon dioxide by up to 10%. Passengers are also like to experience fewer delays with the use of Iris.
Industry seal of approval - Danish space tech startup QuadSAT announced that the Satellite Operators Minimum Antenna Performance (SOMAP) group had concluded that the drones the company has developed to test and calibrate antennas outside laboratory conditions are an acceptable method to measure satellite ground antenna performance. SOMAP was formed in 2013 by AsiaSat, Eutelsat, Inmarsat, INTELSAT, and SES to develop an antenna qualification framework primarily intended to address the qualification of new antenna products being introduced to the market.
Another mission to the Moon - UK-based satellite manufacturer Surrey Satellite Technology announced that ESA had selected to expand its contract for additional communications services from Lunar Pathfinder. According to the company, ESA will be the anchor customer for services from Lunar Pathfinder, which will be the first dedicated lunar communications relay spacecraft. The agreement expands the existing contract which was signed in September 2021. As part of the ongoing contract, NASA will also gain access to Lunar Pathfinder services, placing SSTL as a key provider of Lunar communications in the next decade. Lunar Pathfinder is expected to be launched in 2025.
Rocket science on easy mode - German space tech company Astos Solutions has won an ESA contract for the “Reconfigurable Control Design Framework for Micro-Launcher” project. Under the ESA contract, Astos will partner with TU Dresden to develop a suite of tools designed to enable robust control analysis, design and verification and validation to support the development of the next generation of microlaunchers. The project will last for 15 months with Astos anticipating that the full suite of tools will be made available within the next 12 to 24 months, although individual tools may be available earlier.
Putting it to the test - French satellite propulsion solutions provider ION-X announced that it had reached an agreement with French aerospace component manufacturer MECANO ID. The company will perform qualification testing of the ION-X electric thruster ahead of its first flight in 2024 aboard an EnduroSat satellite.
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