ESA seeks funding for navigation technology programs at ministerial conference

WASHINGTON – The European Space Agency is calling for several hundred million euros for new technologies for satellite navigation from low Earth orbit to the moon at its forthcoming Ministerial Council meeting.

In a November 9 briefing, ESA officials said they are proposing about 500 million euros ($518 million) over the next three years for projects to develop advanced technologies that go beyond their work to that of the European Union to support Galileo’s guided system, which would both enhance existing services for ESA’s terrestrial users and extend them to support lunar exploration.

“This fast-growing market has raised user expectations across the board,” said Javier Benedicto, ESA Director of Navigation, calling for improvements in resilience and accuracy. “At the next Ministerial Council in November, ESA will work to strengthen future satellite navigation capabilities.”

An initiative called FutureNAV will support the development of two missions to advance satellite navigation technologies. One, GENESIS, will combine four different measurement techniques on a single satellite to improve the international terrestrial reference frame used for both navigation and earth science applications.

The other, LEO-PNT, would test a potential future satellite navigation constellation in low Earth orbit through a 6 to 12 small satellite demonstration. Operating LEO, Benedicto said, would allow for stronger signals and greater resistance to interference, possibly using other frequency bands. “By bringing satellite navigation closer to Earth, LEO-PNT has the potential to make satellites cheaper and more efficient, and make launches more economical.”

The goal of LEO-PNT, ESA officials said at the briefing, is a “fast track” program that would launch the small satellites in 2026 to demonstrate the potential capabilities of such a constellation. This would support future planning for the development of a LEO navigation constellation, including whether it would use standalone satellites or hosted payloads, possibly as part of a broadband constellation.

“We’re seeing growth in the future, an evolution in the architecture of satellite navigation systems,” he said, with current constellations like mid-Earth Orbit Galileo serving as the “backbone,” augmented by LEO systems. “The purpose of the in-orbit demonstration, the program we have in mind, is to test this in orbit and demonstrate to ourselves the value of these new technologies before we make a programmatic decision on the future development of this overall architecture.” “

A third mission is Moonlight, a joint effort by ESA’s Directorates of Exploration, Telecommunications and Navigation. Moonlight will develop communications and navigation services on and around the moon to support missions by ESA and its partners there, starting with a demonstration mission called Lunar Pathfinder, which will be operated by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) is being developed for launch in 2025.

ESA is completing the first phase of Moonlight, in which it awarded study contracts to two consortia in 2021, one led by SSTL and the other by Telespazio. If funded at the ministerial conference, ESA is ready immediately thereafter to issue a call for proposals for a second phase to start development of Moonlight, with a target of making selections in April 2023.

Benedicto said ESA will request €100-150 million for Moonlight at the Council of Ministers meeting in Paris on November 22-23. “It is a mission that is very scalable and we will adjust the scope of the mission to the budget made available by our member states.”

He said ESA is requesting €80m for GENESIS and €100m for LEO-PNT and €120m for its navigation innovation and support program NAVISP to support work on technologies and services enabled by satellite navigation, such as B. autonomous driving.

These efforts complement the European Commission-funded work for the Galileo satellite navigation system, according to Benedicto. “We have an agreement where we have a clear division of roles and responsibilities,” he said, with ESA responsible for the development of the Galileo satellites and the EGNOS extension service, which is then managed by the European Union Agency for the Space Program (EUSPA) are operated.

This includes work by ESA to build first and second generation Galileo satellites, although launches of these satellites have been suspended due to the loss of the Soyuz vehicle following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and delays in the Ariane 6 launch. He said there was no urgent need to launch more satellites given the state of the current constellation, although expanding the constellation’s in-orbit spares would help.

“We are currently discussing with the European Union the possibility of identifying additional launch services for the late 2023, early 2024 time frame, if any, in the event that there is an urgent need to launch additional satellites to ensure constellation continuity,” said Benedikto. He later said this included “intensive discussions” with launch companies other than Arianespace, although he did not disclose specific vendors.

In the long term, ESA will use Ariane 6, the first launch of which is currently planned for the fourth quarter of 2023 at the earliest. “Ariane 6 remains our workhorse. It is our basis for the future deployment of the Galileo constellation.”

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