UN:IO consortium consists of 14 leading European NewSpace companies, led by Reflex Aerospace, launch provider Isar Aerospace and laser specialist Mynaric
Smallsat mission integrator NanoAvionics, together with other UN:IO consortium members, will start working on a feasibility study, which has been granted 1.4 million EUR (1.6 million USD) by the European Commission, to create a sovereign communications network for Europe by 2025. The consortium comprises 14 companies led by satellite manufacturer Reflex Aerospace, launch provider Isar Aerospace and laser specialist Mynaric. According to the Lithuanian mission integrator the concept will “include breakthrough technologies for small satellites”.
It’s not the first time for NanoAvionics to be involved in such R&D projects. Last year, the company was awarded a 1 million euros grant by ESA (the European Space Agency) to develop new technologies for small satellite propulsion systems, and participated in two additional ESA funded satellite technology R&D projects. And in 2019, NanoAvionics received a €10 million grant by the EU’S Horizon 2020 and ESA to develop and launch the initial stage of a Global Internet of Things (GIoT) nanosatellite constellation. It has also built satellites for several space missions that included cutting edge technology such as NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) and Los Alamos National Laboratory’s first astrophysics payload in 20 years.
The feasibility study is the first phase of the planned communications network, eventually consisting of more than 400 laser-linked satellites, various ground stations and several control centres. The network will ensure a sovereign capacity for both commercial and institutional communication channels. It will enable fast Internet, autonomous mobility at sea, on ground and in the air, automatic exchange of information between technical installations, support for military and humanitarian actions, and other applications for public authorities, companies and European citizens.
Vytenis J. Buzas, co-founder and CEO of NanoAvionics, said: “Being part of one of the biggest NewSpace initiative in Europe is very exciting and an important strategic step for NanoAvionics. With only two consortiums being selected to deliver such feasibility studies, it’s testimony to the capabilities of the UN:IO which we can strengthen with our own manufacturing expertise and proven small satellite mission experience and flight heritage. In particular our know-how with communication missions, having launched a wide variety of communication nanosatellites, will be of great advantage when developing this study.
“Ever since we launched the first nanosatellite with “green” chemical propulsion, NanoAvionics has been spearheading innovation for nano- and microsatellites. This year we built the first commercially available modular microsat bus in the industry. It has the same modularity for hard- and software and mission operations infrastructure as our very successful nanosatellites. We have also been one of the firsts companies in the nanosatellite industry to successfully kickstart and continue a commercial satellite rideshare programme.”
For the EU, a secure, very fast and, above all, sovereign communications network for Europe is a top priority. The European Commission is also very interested in such a concentration of innovative forces. One of its two study tenders addressed to SMEs and startups from the “NewSpace” industry, endowed with 1.4 million euros, was awarded to the UN:IO consortium. The study must meet sustainability criteria for the EU’s “Green Deal” and build the technical bridge from today to a more distant future, when the communications network in Europe will be extremely well protected against cyberattacks by quantum encryption.
In six months, as required by the terms of the financial support, the consortium will present its technical solutions in detail to the EU. In parallel, work is already beginning on building the hardware structure. The latter is based on funding from the consortium’s own resources and venture capital. A first demonstrator is planned to begin operating in space as early as 2023. It will be followed by more than 400 laser-linked satellites, ground stations, several control centres and other operational infrastructure until Europe’s own UN:IO constellation is fully operational in 2025.
All companies tackling this task have continuously pushed development and set the standards for innovation in space technology in their areas of expertise. Another important thing they have in common is that they are all small and medium-sized companies (SME).