The European Union’s IRIS program, which is slated for launch in 2024, is considered historic and will open a new page in the space revolution. IRIS should be fully operational by 2027, providing satellite internet connectivity all over Europe. The estimated EUR 6 billion costs will be partly funded by a contribution from the European Space Agency and private investment. By democratizing access to space and bridging the digital divide, Space 2.0 also allows machines and vehicles on the Earth’s surface, at sea, and in the air to be connected at high speed and at all times, at a lower maintenance cost than through the use of terrestrial infrastructures.
A skyrocketing market
Thanks to new space technologies, direct-to-device services can connect any IT equipment on Earth to satellites in orbit, providing access to high-speed internet. Europe is entering the race with IRIS², as well as a new entity combining French satellite operator Eutelsat and the UK’s OneWeb, a specialist in low Earth orbit satellite systems – a merger set to create a European internet space giant by the end of 2023.
The space internet market is booming. It is projected to be worth USD 16 billion by 2030, while the global satellite communications market should reach USD 141 billion, posting annual growth of more than 7% over the period. What is underlying this surge? Companies active in these segments are planning an increasing number of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations or mid-range (MEO) satellite projects designed to bring connectivity to regions currently without broadband access, via satellite modem, and with reduced latency.
In North America, disruptive projects keep coming. Starlink, the SpaceX constellation that could be spun off in an IPO by 2025, already has more than 3,500 low-orbit satellites, with 44,000 planned. The December 2022 launch of 54 of these next-generation satellites in a Falcon 9 rocket presaged a new era for the telecoms universe, with an entirely new dimension. US firms Iridium – a satellite communication specialist – and Qualcomm – which designs telecommunications solutions, are already in on this. They recently entered into an agreement to develop the world’s first two-way emergency texting and messaging applications via the Snapdragon satellite, thanks to technology for high-end smartphones that may also be used on cars and computers. This partnership will give Iridium access to a vastly bigger addressable market.
Advances in space technology in the fields of communications, navigation, miniaturization, Earth observation, and microgravity manufacturing are reinventing the use of space. We are convinced that the twin revolution of the Internet of Things and high-speed internet will provide benefits for life on Earth. In the long run, it will open up unprecedented investment opportunities. And it is irreversible.