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EU reaches agreement on satellite comms project: Opens Iris

Very keen to unhook infrastructure from 'third countries', private biz after Ukraine crisis brings situation into focus

Europe is constructing its own satellite constellation to guarantee communications services for the region, following an agreement between the European Parliament and EU member states to invest €2.4 billion ($2.481 billion) in the program.

The IRIS² (Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite) project aims to build and operate an EU satellite constellation to provide "sovereign, autonomous and secured connectivity infrastructure" rather than EU nations having to rely on third-country infrastructure for vital communications.

The European Commission welcomed the agreement covering the Union Secure Connectivity Program 2023-2027, which provides the €2.4 billion ($2.5 billion) budget. It said negotiations have now concluded, paving the way for final approval of the legal text by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

As we reported earlier, this was expected to be a €6 billion ($6.2 billion) deal, with the EU stumping up part of the funding and the remainder coming from private sector investments.

"Secure and efficient connectivity will play a key role in Europe's digital transformation and make us more competitive," said Margrethe Vestager, EVP for the European Commission’s Europe Fit for the Digital Age strategy.

She claimed the program would put the EU "at the forefront of secure satellite communication, as it is today with Galileo for satellite navigation and with Copernicus for earth observation."

The primary goal of IRIS² is put in place a space-based connectivity system for secure communication services supporting EU governments in "the protection of critical infrastructures, surveillance, external actions, crisis management and applications that are critical for the economy, environment, security and defence."

However, the satellite network is also expected to enable commercial services operated by the private sector to deliver high-speed broadband connectivity. This will help to address communication dead zones, with little or no network coverage, which will contribute to fulfilling objectives set in Europe's Digital Decade targets.

Following the agreement, the EC said it will present several implementing acts and begin work on the tender specifications in order to start the ball rolling on the whole program.

The Pro-European Renew Europe Group within the European Parliament issued a statement said the constellation would help to secure EU sovereignty and autonomy by guaranteeing fewer dependencies on third-country comms infrastructure.

Moreover, it said the program will "foster a completely new ecosystem of start-ups and SMEs, as well as the emergence of innovations and new services, and introduces for the first time strict sustainability criteria for heavy space activities, including launchers and satellite components." ®

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