Satellite Internet: Europe has the technology to compete with Elon Musk

“While you are trying to colonize Mars, Russia is trying to occupy Ukraine! (…) We are asking you to provide a station to Ukraine.” With this message on Twitter, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Fedorov arrested Elon Musk, the creator of the Starlink satellite Internet access service, on 26 February. “The terminal is coming,” the billionaire replied immediately.

Terminal? These parabolic antennas point to the sky which makes it possible to connect to the Internet through space. After cyber-attacks disrupted communications, Kiev turned to an American billionaire instead of Brussels to help them recover. Because the old continent does not yet have such a network but it wants to remedy it and for that it has serious advantages.

On the one hand, it could rely on the skill of its champions in the design of small satellites. The globalstar and iridium constellations in mobile telephony were created by Thales Alenia Space in the 2000s. And recently, Airbus built the aircraft for the British OneWeb project.

In terms of launchers, the Aryan 5 still can’t compete with Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket, which, at a price of 55 55 to মিল 67 million per flight, remains unbeaten. But its successor, Arian 6, expected in 2023, should be competitive. “There is a technical solution,” analyzed Pierre Lynette, general manager of the Eurospace Association.

Capital

Brussels is actually working on ArianSpace, Thales Alenia Space, Airbus Space and even Utelsat, as well as two other start-up groups, New Symphony and UN: IO, to create a program combining public and private. 6 billion euros, of which 2.4 billion will be provided by the European Union, will run from 2022 to 2027. The war in Ukraine has reduced the last reservation and forced 27 people to ask themselves one question: what is there? A back-up solution in the event of a breakdown of the earth’s telecommunications network during a conflict or a natural disaster?

The Russian threat to cut transatlantic wires, the infrastructure needed to operate the Internet, has only increased the urge to have a Plan B. Satellites offer an interesting and already proven alternative. Some households – about 10% in France and many more in other countries of the continent – do not have access to ADSL or optical fiber due to geographical constraints, for example, and are therefore forced to resort. Cruise ships, supertankers and even airliners use this solution to serve their customers.

Great innovation comes from low-orbital constellations whose launch costs are much lower. Consisting of hundreds or even thousands of small devices, even if one of them fails they continue to work. And they promise higher speeds with faster response times.

This latency time is essential for the effectiveness of emergency services in the operation theater, but sensitive government communications (embassies) and, tomorrow, autonomous vehicles are able to respond immediately. Starlink has taken a step forward by installing 1,300 machines at an altitude of less than 2,000 kilometers, and it already provides Internet access in 29 countries, including France. But it costs more because the reception kit with the satellite dish costs 500 euros and the subscription is around 100 euros per month.

For its part, Amazon has promised to cut prices like online trading with its Kuiper project. The group has announced 83 launches over the next five years for 3,236 machines. “If we do nothing, our entire aerospace industry is in big danger,” said Pacom Revilon, CEO of Euroconsalt, a member company of New Symphony, underlining a candidate for European service. To place in orbit. “

This market is out of their question. Especially since other countries are coming together. Russia with Sfera (sphere) and China with Guowang also want to keep their constellations. No less than 226 projects are on the card and, if all came out, the sky would be occupied by 52,000 spacecraft. Europe and its space agency (ESA) must move fast and choose a major contractor from among the three contestants by the end of the year.

Will we ever be able to make up for this delay? Galileo’s example calls for optimism. This positioning system, which started well after the American GPS, is now used to orient itself every day and to move in cars or on foot. More than 2.5 billion objects are connected to it, mainly smartphones, without anyone realizing it. Since 2007, it has taken years for European turtles to finally catch the Yankee rabbit.

Airplanes, ships, trains, cars… all find their way today thanks to this system, which is based on 22 satellites, while waiting for a more efficient second generation. “Our service has been in operation since 2016 and costs taxpayers 1 billion euros a year,” explained ESA Director General Javier Benedicto. Less. ” Galileo estimates 40 billion euros per year for economic benefits.

Its subtlety is even greater for firefighters, ambulances or law enforcement. GPS was created for the military and was then offered to the civilian world in a degraded version. Galileo, on the other hand, will soon allow the army to operate their ground vehicles, their warplanes or their missiles, primarily intended for civilians. Today, NATO members, including France, are still forced to use GPS. However, Washington has always indicated that it is prepared to cut off the signal if it deems it appropriate. Fearing to be “blind”, major countries such as Russia with Glonas or China with Baidu have decided to set up their own solutions. Relying on Uncle Sam’s goodwill is out of the question. With Galileo, Europe has already taken its fate into its own hands.

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