EU hopes new satellites can spot spy balloons and spacecraft – POLITICO

A new multibillion-euro European satellite system could be used to identify and track spy balloons and rival spacecraft in the future, a senior EU official has said.

The European Parliament on Tuesday passed a crucial vote backing the development of a secure satellite communications system that will rival Elon Musk’s Starlink. The program – dubbed Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Satellite Security, or IRIS² for short – aims to eliminate internet dead zones and enable European governments, spy agencies and the military to communicate in completely safe.

But with a few additions, it also promises to act as an eye in the sky against the kind of nosy balloons that are currently waging a diplomatic war between the United States and China.

“We really want to integrate a lot of new features and a lot of services, including for the military,” Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said of plans to connect additional technologies on IRIS² spacecraft, referring to the “ space-to-space surveillance” and high-altitude tracking. spy balloons as possible additional functions.

“With this capability, we want to be able to monitor what’s happening around the constellation,” Breton told reporters in Strasbourg.

The French commissioner said the technology could also be used to track movements at high altitudes in European airspace. China’s purported spy balloons – flying objects packed with surveillance equipment that the US government has spotted over the United States and other regions in recent years – typically operate at altitudes of 20,000 meters, well above above the flight paths of conventional commercial flights.

“You can spot balloons much more easily from satellites… than from Earth,” said Christophe Grudler, a liberal French MEP who leads Parliament’s IRIS² dossier. “One of the useful tasks will be to engage in surveillance, especially for these balloons,” he said, adding that it helps to build Europe’s “space awareness”.

The final approval of the program by lawmakers comes amid rising tensions between major space powers and following allegations of satellite spying in recent years.

With 3.15 billion euros secured to take the IRIS² program forward, including from the European Defense Fund, Breton said he wanted to start procurement for the constellation next month, with first launches planned for 2024 and full service on the market from 2027.

Lawmakers approved the plan with 603 votes in favor, 6 against and 39 abstentions.


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