A group of major European space and telecommunications companies have come together to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink system by bidding for a proposed satellite constellation.
European companies, including Airbus Defense and Space, Eutelsat, SES, and Thales Alenia Space, have partnered to bid for the Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity, and Security by Satellite (IRIS�) constellation, which will provide internet connectivity from low-Earth orbit to the European Union, similar to Starlink. IRIS� will be operational by 2027, with an estimated cost of $6.6 billion USD, with $2.64 billion USD from the EU.
The Formation of the Partnership
The announcement of the partnership between Airbus Defense and Space, Eutelsat, SES, and Thales Alenia Space marks a significant moment in the European space industry. The companies have come together to bid for the proposed satellite constellation, IRIS�, which will compete with SpaceX’s Starlink system.
The European Union’s Investment
The European Union has committed $2.64 billion USD to the IRIS� project, with additional funding expected from the European Space Agency and private investment. Commissioner for Internal Market of the European Union Thierry Breton has stated that the project “establishes space as a vector of our European autonomy, a vector of connectivity, and a vector of resilience.”
The Benefits of IRIS�
Named after the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology, IRIS� will provide internet connectivity for the whole of Europe, including areas that currently lack broadband internet. It will also provide connectivity to the whole of Africa using the satellites’ North-South orbits. The system will integrate with Europe’s existing satellite constellations, including Galileo and the Copernicus system, to reduce the risk of space congestion.
The Competition with Starlink
SpaceX’s Starlink system currently has over 4,300 operational satellites in low-Earth orbit, with plans to eventually send up to 42,000 satellites. Starlink supplies internet to 53 countries and has been the subject of controversy due to its potential interference with astronomical observations and its contribution to space congestion.
The competition between IRIS� and Starlink marks a significant moment in the development of the space industry. Future research could explore the impact of satellite constellations on space congestion and the environment, as well as the potential benefits and drawbacks of different satellite technologies.