Space is a vital component of any drive towards EU strategic autonomy

By Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace

In a changing geopolitical context, where many powers are emerging and establishing themselves on the international scene, Europe is organized to keep its rank and consolidate its sovereignty – which requires a strategic autonomy. This does not stop at defense and security; the capacity to take decisions and to undertake actions in all sorts of domains lies on our capacity to have at our disposal technological, industrial, intellectual capabilities on our own. What is the place of launchers in terms of sovereignty? It is precisely a concentrate of strategic autonomy issues and an example of success in this field!

The European space sector has developed precisely in the face of a sovereignty matter regarding access to space: at the start of the space race, we used to rely on American means to launch our satellites and were not masters of our capacities. Thus, in 1975, the European nations joined within the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop competences in access to space. This is how the Ariane and, later on, Vega launchers were born, leading to the successes that we all know.

The European States have immediately understood the importance of space for their sovereignty: Earth observation, secure telecommunications, global positioning, security, science… European space has always been a matter of public investment, its launchers Ariane and Vega being developed under ESA mandate, with Arianespace as its unique launch service provider.

Despite a much lesser volume of institutional demand, European industry has achieved a remarkable level of competitiveness on the global commercial market, capturing significant market shares on all commercial and export segments. This is of course very beneficial for our public customers, but it also exposes European capabilities to commercial markets downturn, with high uncertainties.

This organization guaranteeing European strategic autonomy in space is being challenged by exacerbated competition from across the pond. The Buy American Act favors domestic products for direct government purchases. This means that, unless for projects in competition, U.S launchers systematically operate American institutional satellite launches. U.S launchers are boosted by very lucrative U.S orders, so that they offer very low prices on the European market.

To counter this treat, and in order to maintain sovereignty in space, we need a European preference for launchers: all European missions must be launched by European launchers. We need to ensure this choice in Europe, accompanied with an ambitious number of missions, which is essential to preserve our highly qualified space industry and our autonomy of access to space.

This European preference must materialize; otherwise, it will remain a wishful thinking. For that, we need major and federating projects to strengthen our launchers. Europe is stronger with its flagship projects!

For example, the Galileo and Copernicus programs are great successes. Galileo is now the most accurate positioning system in the world and its deployment has resulted in 11 Arianespace launches over 10 years, and is still ongoing from the Guiana Space Center (CSG). For its part, Copernicus provides countless freely available data on our planet to help agriculture, climate monitoring, companies, etc. Its deployment has resulted in 7 launches by Arianespace since 2014.

We must not stop there, and engage the future with new flagship programs stirred by public investment, hence initiating public-private partnerships.

The project for a European secure connectivity constellation is essential – and the recent publication of the proposal for a Regulation that will, when adopted, allow its implementation, is a confirmation that the Commission is perfectly aware of its importance.

With a budget estimated at 6 billion €, equally shared between the European Commission, Member States and the private sector, Europe will be giving itself the means to maintain and strengthen its autonomy in telecommunication and, as a positive “side effect” will actively contribute to further secure it independent access to space. It will – on top of granting European citizens means for a better life – consolidate the entire European space sector and its competitiveness (base, launcher, satellites, operators…). This is why Arianespace is already part of the consortia set up by the Commission to prepare the initiative.

Arianespace is positioning itself as the benchmark launch service provider for this ambitious program: Ariane 6 is perfectly adapted, as the deployment of the constellation will obviously need a heavy launcher, which will be complemented by Vega C.

In this context when we need to consolidate our sovereignty of access to space, Europe committed to its launchers in August 2021, with the ESA resolution securing Ariane 6 and Vega C exploitation. The ESA assigned for the stabilized phase of Ariane 6 and Vega C to a minimum set of launches and funding of industrial capabilities, while the industry commits to target costs. This allows Arianespace to propose Ariane 6 and Vega C at competitive prices and aim for high launch cadences. This Resolution ensures a better level playing field with our US competitors, largely supported by their institutions, which allows them to propose very aggressive prices.

Alongside with the European Secure Connectivity Constellation, the ESA Resolution and its full implementation by all European public stakeholders procuring satellites, are the two key recent initiatives for guarantying Europe with a long term autonomous access to space. We are progressing in the right direction!