On 14th February 2023, the European Parliament approved a €2.4 billion project to build Europe’s first multi-orbital satellite constellation, similar to Starlink. It is expected to be operational by 2024 and completed by 2027.
IRIS² would eliminate internet dead zones within the European Union, and enhance the capabilities of member states’ Governments, spy agencies and militaries.
The utility of a satellite constellation providing internet services was made apparent when Elon Musk enabled access to Starlink to Ukrainians for free as Russia launched its invasion in 2022. While it was done out of goodwill, Elon Musk has already threatened to withdraw Starlink from Ukraine, both for reasons of cost or due to diverging views on the war.
This prompted leaders within the EU to push for the development of their version of Starlink to ensure independence from individual actors, and strengthen the EU’s autonomy in space.
The project is also intended to improve internet and communication access to EU citizens across Europe, providing them with an alternative solution. In areas where there is limited connectivity, in Malta’s case, when out at sea, this could be a godsend, especially if a dangerous situation arises.
Up to 170 LEO satellites are expected to be launched, and the project will be implemented through a public-private partnership.
So far the proposal has the backing of the European Commission and the European Parliament. 603 MEPs voted in favour and only six voted against.
All that is left is for the Council (i.e. the Council of Ministers, Government representatives from each country) to approve it. Once that is done, the project is off the ground.
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