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Space Rivals Join to Bid for $6.6 Billion EU Satellite Plan

Space Rivals Join to Bid for $6.6 Billion EU Satellite Plan
A European Space Agency Ariane 5 rocket launches in Kourou, French Guiana. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Europe’s top satellite and aerospace companies have teamed up to bid for the European Union’s €6 billion ($6.6 billion) satellite project known as IRIS², aimed at beaming internet across the continent and giving the bloc its own fleet to keep up with constellations deployed by governments and businesses around the world.

The consortium will be run by aerospace manufacturers Airbus SE and Thales Alenia Space SAS along with satellite operators Eutelsat Communications SA, SES SA, and Hispasat SA, the companies said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

If it wins the contract, the consortium will be required to run a system of hundreds of satellites in multiple orbits, from the traditional geostationary path about 22,000 miles (35,406 kilometers) away from earth to closer ones.

QuickTake: How Musk Sparked a Race to Send Satellites into ‘LEO’

IRIS², which stands for “infrastructure for resilience, interconnectivity and security by satellite,” will provide access to government agencies, including defense departments, and businesses. It also will be deployed to connect parts of the EU that don’t have internet. The EU has said the constellation will provide critical infrastructure and reinforce its technological sovereignty as other countries, such as China, as well as private companies, develop their own systems.

Billionaire Elon Musk is currently the largest operator of low-earth orbit satellites. He’s already launched thousands of Starlink satellites using Space Exploration Technologies Corp. rockets. Low-earth orbit fleets pass fewer than 600 miles from the planet’s surface and offer faster connection speeds, but need many more satellites to cover the same landmass than satellites at higher orbits. Other such systems are being backed by Inc. and OneWeb Ltd.

The IRIS² satellites will start providing service next year and will reach full capacity by 2027. The EU’s contribution to the overall cost will be €2.4 billion, according to a March statement. Another €685 million will come from the European Space Agency and the rest will come from the private sector.

The consortium will work with telecom and technology companies Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange SA, OHB SE, Hisdesat Servicios Estrategicos SA and Telespazio SpA and Thales SA, the group said in the statement.

The group is also seeking startups to join it, and the EU is aiming for them to build 30% of the final system.


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