TheEuropean Defence Agency (EDA) is quietly moving toward involvement in themilitary-space sector by providing Europe's civil space authorities with a listof military requirements for future civilian-financed Earth observation andspace-situational awareness projects, according to EDA and other Europeanofficials.
It remainsunclear how far the effort will go, and already some heads of individualEuropean government space agencies are protesting that they are being asked tofund programs with military specifications but no military funding.
EDA, the EuropeanSpace Agency (ESA) and the commission of the 27-nation European Union haveagreed to create a task force with European space-hardware manufacturers toidentify technologies that Europe needs but does not have on its own.
LeonardoArgiri, an EDA research and technology project officer, said one EDA role willbe to encourage its member governments to coordinate with ESA on whatmanufacturer to use for a given technology deemed to be in short supply inEurope.
Argiri saidduring a Sept. 25 presentation at a space-technology seminar organized by theEurospace space-industry association that by coordinating supply-chaindecisions with ESA and the European Commission, EDA can help assure that thespace sector maximizes its chance of assuring low-volume production of criticalspace hardware.
Europeangovernment and industry officials say a key roadblock to Europe'sself-sufficiency in certain space technologies is that the customers for theseproducts do not agree to use the same suppliers. Without a sufficiently largemarket, manufacturers of high-end electronics components are unlikely tomaintain production lines.
"Theidea is to select, for a given component, one company that we can agreeto," Argiri said, "and to agree among the governments that we won'ttry to duplicate that product throughout Europe."
SomeEuropean governments, such as France, have long welded civil and military spaceinto a single research and development organization. The French space agency,CNES, is funded by the Frenchresearch and defense ministries and does work for both.
But othergovernments, as well as ESA, have maintained a strictly civil role for theirspace agencies, if for no other reason than that they have no military spaceambitions.
But thesegovernments have agreed, through the European Commission and ESA, to fund programsthat have clear military applications. One, called Kopernikus, is a fleet ofEarth observation satellites planned for the next decade — many of interest tomilitary users. Another, which ESA calls Space Situational Awareness, is aproposal that ESA coordinate existing ground-based radar and optical assets in Europe to get a better look at what is in orbit over European territory.
"Thereare reasons for combining our work in the context of the Commission's EuropeanSecurity and Research Program, of the [Kopernikus] community and of ESA,"said Dick Zandee, EDA's head of planning and policy.
"Howdo we do this?" Zandee asked during the Sept. 9 conference with ESA andthe European Commission that set up the task force. "First, where otherscan take our military requirements into consideration, [EDA] will provide them.We have already provided the commission with military requirements for[Kopernikus] use for maritime surveillance. In the future, militaryrequirements for wider military use of [Kopernikus] will be developed. We havealso started work on military requirements for Space Situational Awareness,though these will not be available before 2009."
Argiri saidthat in addition to these areas, EDA is interested in military satellitetelecommunications and in satellite data relay. In Europe, most militarysatellite communications technologies are based on commercial work. ESA haslaunched a data-relay capability with the Artemis satellite in geostationaryorbit and ESA governments are expected to be asked to fund a follow-ondata-relay system when they meet in late November to vote on ESA's long-termbudget.
ChristianBreant, EDA's research and technology director, said EDA is active in assuringthat the next generation of military or dual-use reconnaissance satellites are built as a networkrather than independently as is the case of existing or currently plannedobservation satellites in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Thesenations, joined by Belgium and Greece, have formed a group to design what iscalled the Multinational Space-Based Imaging System, or MUSIS, to assure thatfuture reconnaissance systems can be used by all members. The MUSIS goal is tohave these nations agree, by mid-2009, on a design architecture for all futureEuropean reconnaissance satellite programs.
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Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Space.com and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at http://www.sciwriter.us