Access to space is accelerating its diversification through the reuse of heavy launchers. The European Commission is advocating an alliance in this area. The first step is the Themis project, funded by the European Space Agency with contributions from ArianeGroup, CNES and ONERA. There are also plans for airborne launchers, carrying satellites weighing around a hundred kilograms.
In terms of manufacturing and operation, the use of specific components and heavy satellites had always prevailed until now. This rationale is shifting, with the use of standard electronics in a duplicate configuration (main and backup) and the proliferation of nanosatellite constellations such as those in the Starlink and OneWeb networks, as well as Kineis in France.
This model brings down manufacturing and insurance costs, while shortening the revisit interval (overflight of land areas), whether for telecoms, Internet, agriculture, weather forecasting, shipping or defence. On the other hand, space debris will increasingly have to be managed, for example by designing “collectors” or models that self-destruct at the end of their lives.
Space has also become a potential arena for military confrontation, where satellites need to be monitored and protected, using ground-based radars and in-orbit lookout systems. This protection will eventually benefit from the quantum encryption of communications.
Director of the Space Programme at ONERA (French Aerospace Lab)
- €477 billion: global space market in 2020.
- €14.88 billion: European Union space budget 2021-2027.
- Around 3000 satellites in orbit.