According to the Index of Objects Launched into Outer Space, 2020 saw the largest number of satellites ever launched in a single year.
1. According to the Index of Objects Launched into Outer Space, 2020 saw the largest number of satellites ever launched in a single year: 1,283. What kind of challenges and opportunities can we expect to see with the growing numbers of satellites being put into service over the next few years?
These growing numbers reflect the strong dynamics of the space sector, and more specifically of space telecommunications: the high demand for services is stimulating private sector initiatives.
Telecommunications are clearly a driver of the space economy for the current decade.
But these numbers also indicate significant challenges. There is a risk that the current trend will become unsustainable and harm operations both in and from space – not just in the low-Earth orbit (LEO), but in all orbits. Debris and interference are two critical issues that need to be tackled seriously.
2. What does a healthy low-Earth orbit economy look like?
A healthy LEO economy has an unencumbered orbit, where debris creation is strictly minimized to reduce risks of collisions, and where frequency assignments are carefully coordinated, in accordance with ITU (International Telecommunication Union) filings and regulatory procedures. It is also an economy where enough players can develop their activities, thus offering end users a diversity of applications and solutions.
3. Tell us more about the European satellite landscape when it comes to production and operations.
Europe has all the assets to remain a driving force. In the public sector, the new European Union Space Programme Agency, EUSPA, was created in April 2021 to support the implementation of EU priorities in this area and complement the European Space Agency, ESA. On the private sector side, there is a launch system operator (Arianespace), two major satellite manufacturers (Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space), and a space telecommunications operator (Eutelsat), all of which are world-class in their fields.
The existence of a European space telecommunications operator constitutes a key asset in this value chain.
With nearly 90 per cent of our orders placed with European manufacturers, and having become Arianespace's largest commercial customer over the years, Eutelsat accounts for a large part of the demand in the European space industry.
4. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your operations over the past year?
The satellite telecommunications business has proved quite resilient in the face of the public health crisis. The aviation connectivity segment has suffered a bit, with the interruption of the big transcontinental links – but it will pick up again gradually, as air travel recovers.
5. What role does international cooperation play in the advancement of satellite and space development?
International cooperation has always been instrumental in the development of space applications. Eutelsat has a very strong European identity and so for the Group, Europe is a first natural circle of cooperation.