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EU joins satellite supremacy battle to compete with Starlink, Kuiper

Europe is seeking final offers for a 6 billion euro ($6.55 billion) EU satellite constellation which is designed to compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink and Jeff Bezos’ Kuiper.

But authorities have been warned that the IRIS² system, initiated by the European Commission, risks missing out on the latest wave of artificial intelligence and becoming outdated before it is even launched due to bureaucracy.

The European Space Agency said on Friday it would seek final offers to develop the secure communications system, a flagship project spurred in part by the role of Musk’s Starlink as a backbone for Ukraine in the war with Russia.

For now, the sole known bidder for the main IRIS² contract is a consortium of Airbus, Thales Alenia Space, Eutelsat, Hispasat and SES.

The array of up to 170 satellites will secure communications for European Union governments and open new commercial broadband services to under-served areas between 2025 and 2027.

“As things stand, IRIS² runs the risk of being outdated before it even launches,” former French air force chief Denis Mercier and ex-Airbus executive Marc Fontaine wrote in a sponsored opinion piece for Politico last week.

Both are involved with German defence AI start-up Helsing, which specialises in offering onboard AI software, with Mercier on its board and Fontaine running its French activity.

When IRIS² was launched, AI was a “somewhat futuristic technology,” they wrote. “However, over the past two or three years, the world has learned that AI has matured and is ready for deployment practically everywhere.”

The European Commission said it was already acting on this. Reuters

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