Sun. May 26th, 2024

EU Puts Brakes on Space Regulation, Delays Constellation Deal

Alex Thompson By Alex Thompson May25,2024

WASHINGTON — The European Commission is delaying two key space initiatives, a space law and a contract for a satellite constellation, until at least this summer.

At an April 9 meeting of an EU parliamentary committee, Theirry Breton, EU commissioner for the internal market, said the release of a legislative proposal for an EU space law, expected earlier this year, would be delayed likely until after parliamentary elections in June.

“We know we’re heading into an election campaign and we all understand that, therefore, things may take a little longer. Therefore, work will resume after the summer on this question,” he said of the proposed law, which he described as being “in the very early stages” and “not yet mature.”

That took many observers by surprise. In January, EU officials said they planned to release the draft of the law, which remains under tight wraps, by the end of March. While the commission missed that deadline, a commission spokesperson said April 4 that the draft of the law would be released later in the month.

The European Commission has disclosed few details about what the draft law will contain. Breton and other officials have said it will help create a “single market” for space in the EU, harmonizing differences in national space laws, and also address issues like space sustainability and cybersecurity. The regulations would likely cover both European space companies as well as those seeking to do business within the EU.

One member of the European Parliament, Niklas Nienass, called on Breton to accelerate the release of the proposed space law. “Please, Mr. Breton, we know here that time is of the essence,” he said at the committee meeting. “Please release it even before the elections because we can still start working on it while taking the political decision after the elections.”

Another committee member, though, was not concerned about the delay. “We are keenly awaiting the draft European space act, but of course we understand the difficulties,” said Christophe Grudler, citing the upcoming elections. “If we take a few extra months, that’s not all that serious. We need a good, robust proposal to put an end to the Wild West in space.”

Hermann Ludwig Moeller, director of the European Space Policy Institute, said in an April 10 interview at the 39th Space Symposium that while he expected the EU to adopt a space law at some point, the delay injects uncertainty into both the timing of the law and its contents.

“I would expect to have some kind of discontinuity,” he said, particularly if there are changes in the leadership of the European Commission after the elections.

He said he was surprised by the delay but, like many others, knew little about the specific contents of the law beyond a comment from one EU official that the draft bill was 150 pages long. One possibility, he said, was pressure from companies who were concerned the bill would have imposed requirements that made them less competitive.

The European Commission also appears to have put on hold the award of a contract to develop the Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite (IRIS²) constellation that would provide secure broadband connectivity. In January, an industry consortium that includes Airbus Defence and Space, Thales Alenia Space and Arianespace said they were completing their final proposal to the commission for the constellation, with the expectation that the contract would be awarded by the end of March.

Breton said at the parliamentary committee meeting that the commission was still working to finalize the contract and did not estimate when that would be complete. “There is an independent committee which is working on the evaluation process,” he said, declining to provide further details on that. “The work is being carried out extremely seriously.”

Mueller said that he believed the process was complicated by the fact that IRIS², unlike the EU’s Galileo navigation system or Copernicus Earth observation system, would be done as a public private partnership. “It is hard by definition,” he said, “but it will be very complicated.”

He also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of a single industry consortium for IRIS² that combined manufacturers and service providers. There are also concerns about the cost of the constellation, with rumors that the actual cost could be double the official price tag of six billion euros ($6.4 billion.)

At the hearing, Nienass said he was concerned about the viability of IRIS². “The current proposal is much more expensive and does not bring any additional benefit to the European people when it comes to space connectivity,” he said. “I cannot see that the budget committee or us as a whole can suggest to increase the spending by almost four billion euros for the proposal so far.”

Alex Thompson

By Alex Thompson

Alex is an award-winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Alex has covered a wide range of topics from politics to entertainment. Known for in-depth research and compelling storytelling, Alex's work has been featured in major news outlets around the world.

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2 thoughts on “EU Puts Brakes on Space Regulation, Delays Constellation Deal”
  1. Does the delay in releasing the draft of the EU space law impact the timeline for the satellite constellation contract as well?

    1. EmilySmith, the delay in releasing the draft of the EU space law may indeed impact the timeline for the satellite constellation contract as well. The regulatory framework established by the space law would likely play a crucial role in shaping the terms and conditions of the constellation deal, affecting the negotiations and implementation process.

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