Ariane Group and the French State signed a new contract for space surveillance yesterday. An issue that has become crucial at a time when space is becoming a site of potential commercial and military conflicts. From Toulouse, where its Space Command is located, France is a major player able to allow Europe to be sovereign.
The Europe of Defense has been a sea serpent for years. Space Europe, on the other hand, is a reality that could allow the European Union to be a major player in this new frontier whose stakes are economic – from constellations of nanosatellites to exploration and perhaps exploitation of the Moon – but also military. Rivalries between space powers have, in fact, led in recent years to a kind of new cold war, a new front shaking up the Space Treaty of 1967 which, however, prohibits any militarization of space.
The Russians firing on one of their old satellites
Thus in mid-November, without anyone being warned, the firing of a Russian missile to destroy one of its old inactive satellites, caused debris endangering the International Space Station (ISS) and others satellites. The incident turned into a diplomatic crisis, the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly evoking “the rampages of space”. In 2018, another military incident was at the origin of the French awareness of this new situation.
In September 2018, France revealed that the Russian satellite Loutch-Olymp had attempted to spy on the Franco-Italian satellite Athena-Fidus a year earlier. This unprecedented event had the creation of the Space Command (CDE) of the Air and Space Army, based in Toulouse.
Syracuse and Ceres satellite launches
Since then, space has become a major issue of national defense and sovereignty. The latest military programming law (LPM) devotes 4.3 billion euros to this over the period 2019-2025. In this context, a Syracuse telecommunications satellite and three intelligence satellites were successfully launched on October 24 and November 16, 2021. And yesterday, a contract was signed between the State and ArianeGroup for space surveillance.
This contract, the amount of which has not been specified, extends a previous agreement dating from 2017 and will result in “an increased optical surveillance capacity for medium, geostationary and high orbits,” ArianeGroup underlined in a press release. . The company (joint venture of the Airbus group and Safran), has a tool, GEOTracker, which combines telescopes on all continents and a control center, in order to provide “permanent 360 ° coverage of all of the geostationary arc. ” GEOTracker “allows space monitoring to provide positioning, orbitography and analysis data to its customers, to protect their satellites against any type of risk in orbit.”
“Protecting our space capabilities like those of our European allies”
For the Ministry of the Armed Forces, this system makes it possible to detect, monitor and contribute to the characterization of space objects whether they are active or inactive, in order to establish the space situation and to contribute to the protection of French space assets. “An increased capacity for space surveillance is decisive to strengthen our strategic autonomy and to be able to respond to emerging threats quickly and effectively, in order to protect our space capacities like those of our European allies”, indicated General Michel Friedling, boss of the Space Command.
This surveillance capacity makes France one of the rare countries in the world to have such a system, a sovereignty issue in the era of spy satellites and the proliferation of constellations of small engines. It also gives our country a driving role to promote the concept of “European defense”, launched by Emmanuel Macron in 2017 during his speech at the Sorbonne on Europe and reiterated last week during the presentation of the presidency’s priorities. French Council of the European Union (PFUE) which starts on January 1 for six months.
A European defense space strategy
“In the space sector, we are proposing the development of a European defense space strategy, by 2023, drawing the benefits of the national defense space strategy that I presented to you in 2019” indicated Florence Parly on Wednesday in presenting the defense priorities of the PFUE.