In response to Elon Musk’s Starlink, European space and telecommunications companies have come together to bid on the Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity, and Security by Satellite (IRIS2) project. The goal of IRIS2 is to provide Europe with a reliable, secure, and interconnected satellite infrastructure that will cater to the region’s governments, businesses, and citizens. With Musk’s Starlink already providing internet connectivity to remote areas, the European Union aims to create an independent infrastructure that does not rely on a single private service provider, especially during times of conflict or political tensions.
IRIS2 promises to deliver a new connectivity infrastructure that prioritizes security and resilience, making it an attractive alternative to Musk’s service. The move also highlights Europe’s growing interest in space technology and its desire to have a stake in the industry. The joint effort of European companies demonstrates a shared commitment to create a more diverse and stable satellite infrastructure for the continent, positioning it as a significant player in the space industry.
Who will build IRIS2?
The European Commission’s call for tender of the satellite constellation was answered by an open consortium consisting of the biggest names in the space and telecommunications arena in Europe.
This included Airbus Defence and Space, Eutelsat, Hispasat, SES, Thales Alenia Space on the space front, Deutsche Telekom, OHB, Orange, Hisdesat, Telespazio, and Thales from the telecommunications sector. Together, the consortium wants to build the satellite constellation on a “multi-orbit architecture” which will be “interoperable with the terrestrial ecosystem,” the press release said.
With the bigwigs lining up for the contract that is expected to cost $6 billion, there seems to be little space for new entrants in the space sector, something the EU has been pushing to create a stronger commercial space sector in Europe.
European Space Agency (ESA) has plenty of experience building satellite constellations such as Galileo and Copernicus, which are already in orbit. However, the project for providing internet connectivity requires a high degree of nimbleness, given Starlink’s established popularity and plans for expansion.
IRIS2 needs to be implemented rapidly, and the EU has set 2027 as the target date for global coverage. But with such a large consortium planning to take up the project, the pace of execution is under question. Even the likes of Starlink took over four years to establish global coverage with a strong workhorse called Falcon 9 on its side.
The Ariane 6 launch vehicle isn’t expected to be ready until next year and may not even have the spare launch capacity that IRIS2 will need for global coverage by 2027, Ars Technica reported.
Can a major consortium repeat the achievements of Starlink in a similar timeframe remains to be seen.