You are currently viewing IRIS²: The Dawn of EU Leadership in Space? 

IRIS²: The Dawn of EU Leadership in Space? 

Written by: Manfred Sintorn, Irene Verduci

Edited by: Clelia Vettori

Supervised by: Emile Clarke

As great power politics returns to the world stage, so does space policy. States that can afford to are funnelling money into their space programmes in pursuit of everything from space-based weaponry to technological development, research, and communications. The European Union, in a bid to become the leading space actor, has also launched a flurry of projects and established both an operational agency and a specialised directorate-general for its space policy. One of the many lessons from the war in Ukraine is the importance of resilient and secure satellite internet during times of crisis. In setting up such a capability, the EU is establishing the Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite (IRIS²), which will be fully operational by 2027 (Regulation 2023/588).

IRIS² aims to develop a reliable satellite-based internet system for European, invited, and allied use. The intent is to cover the EU, its delegations, member state embassies, and strategic areas for both civilian and military applications. In a context where the only existing alternative, Starlink, is privately owned, US-based, and has restricted the connection for a Ukrainian drone strike after its CEO was contacted by Russian officials (Brunnstrom, Landay, Stewart & Popeski, 2023), IRIS²’s necessity cannot be overstated. Recent experiences such as the suspected sabotage of undersea cables in the Gulf of Finland show that the EU’s telecommunications infrastructure is vulnerable to hybrid attacks, stressing the need for alternative networks (Kauranen & Solsvik, 2023). IRIS²’s ramifications for strategic autonomy, redundancy in communications and military capacity are all significant (European Commission, 2023a). Further, in establishing the first publicly controlled satellite service of its kind, the EU is seeking a leading role in space technology and policy (European Commission, 2023a).