The European Union has unveiled plans to develop mega-constellations of satellites in Earth orbit – despite major concerns about such constellations that have yet to be resolved.
Today, Wednesday (December 23rd), the European Commission (EC) said it would work with a number of companies to launch a one-year feasibility study worth 7.1m euros ($ 8.7m) to explore the need for “space communication system. ”
Airbus, Arianespace, Eutelsat, Orange and Thales Alenia Space are among the companies the EC has partnered with.
The goal of building a satellite constellation would be to “strengthen Europe’s digital sovereignty and ensure secure connectivity for citizens,” the EC said, while providing internet in rural areas.
“The study will consider how the space system could improve and connect to current and future critical infrastructure, including terrestrial networks,” the EC added.
It was also said that the study would study the role that satellites could play in 5G “while taking into account the evolution towards upcoming 6G technologies.”
The total cost of the constellation is expected to be 6 billion euros ($ 7.3 billion), Bloomberg reported earlier this month.
Numerous key players have already emerged around the world in the race to build such constellations and transfer the Internet to Earth from space.
This includes Starlink, the American company SpaceX Elona Muska, which has already launched hundreds of satellites, and plans to launch as many as 42,000 in the coming years.
Amazon’s U.S.-funded Jeff Bezos Kuiper project, meanwhile, is another competitor, while the UK-backed OneWeb, which is backed by the government, has already launched more than 100 of its own satellites – last time last Friday – after fleeing bankruptcy.
Other countries, including China, plan to launch constellations of hundreds of satellites. In total, it is estimated that more than 100,000 satellites could be added to Earth orbit in the coming years, which will far overshadow the current number of 2,500 active satellites.
This presents the main challenges and dangers for the Earth’s orbit. The most important thing is how to deal with this huge increase in traffic and prevent collisions between satellites.
Such collisions could massively increase the amount of space debris in orbit, increasing the risk of more and more collisions (known as Kessler syndrome) or, at worst, making parts of the Earth’s orbit unusable.
The mega constellations also significantly change the aesthetics of the night sky, filling it with bright satellites bright as stars easily visible to the naked eye.
This could make professional astronomy a much more difficult undertaking, with multiple satellites passing over the telescope’s field of view when attempting to observe space.
Many experts – including the European Space Agency (ESA) – have expressed fears that current rules and regulations are insufficient to address the mega-constellation, comparing the problem to the early days of climate change.
The European Union’s announcement of developing its own constellation is likely to only further fuel concerns, with many problems yet to be addressed that could damage Earth’s orbit for decades or even generations.