The consortium, including both telecoms and satellite specialists, will bid to jointly operate the European Commission (EC)’s burgeoning IRIS² low-earth orbit satellite constellation

Satellite communication networks have seen a meteoric rise in recent years, buoyed by the steady growth of Elon Musk’s Starlink constellation, which now comprises almost 4,000 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). Soon, the expansion of similar constellations, such as the UK government-backed OneWeb and Amazon’s nascent Kuiper Project, will see the sky above our heads soon filled with orbiting devices capable of beaming down connectivity to hard to reach areas.

For a number of years, the European Union (EU) has expressed its wish to join this emerging space race, saying that the creation of its own LEO satellite network would be crucial to ensuring the region’s digital security and sovereignty.

Last year, these ambitions finally began to take shape with the announcement of the Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite (IRIS²) constellation, the EU’s €6 billion satellite project.

According to the EU’s plans, IRIS² will seek to cover the entirety of Europe and Africa, providing connectivity for governments, businesses, and citizens.

To achieve this, the project will require the launch of around 170 new LEO satellites, which will be incorporated with various existing orbital assets in Low, Medium, and geostationary orbits. The EC aims to launch the first of these satellites in 2024, with the entire constellation completed and ready for service in 2027.

The public tender process for the right to build and operate IRIS² was launched last month, with the EU having agreed that €2.4 billion in public funding would be provided, with the rest of the €6 billion to be provided by the private sector.

Now, this week has seen the formation of a new consortium that aims to bid for the IRIS², touting their collective expertise in both the satellite and telecoms sectors.

The consortium is to be led by Airbus Defence and Space, Eutelsat, Hispasat, SES, and Thales Alenia Space, with a wider ‘core team’ that comprises Deutsche Telekom, OHB, Orange, Hisdesat, Telespazio, and Thales.

The consortium is reportedly open to additional members, with startups and SMEs encouraged to join and build ‘amore innovative and competitive European space sector’.

“The integrated team aims to foster collaboration among all European space players across the whole connectivity value chain with a view to enabling EU’s strategic autonomy through the delivery of sovereign, secure and resilient government services to protect European citizens,” said the group in a statement. “The team will leverage synergies between government and commercial infrastructures. The teaming partners are also well positioned to provide commercial services to bridge the digital divide across European territories and to increase Europe’s global outreach and competitiveness as a space and digital power on the global market.”

Each members specific contributions to the project have yet to be revealed.

The EC is set to evaluate initial proposals until May 25, after which it will seek more detailed proposals. A final decision on the winner of the contract will be decided by the end of the year, with an official announcement expected to be made in late January 2024.

Want to keep up to date with all of the latest international telecoms news? Click here to receive Total Telecom’s daily newsletter straight to your inbox

Also in the news:
ECTA calls on the European Commission to think again
Research claims FTTH reduces internet CO2 emissions by a third
Fibre will underpin our 5G future, says ITS Technology Group at Connected North