Prof. Chatzinotas on the IRIS2 Satellite Constellation
19 January 2023
The European Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite (IRIS2 ) promises a powerful new space-based communication infrastructure for the EU. This ambitious venture is an opportunity to make use of critical novel technologies.
Author: Prof. Symeon Chatzinotas, head of the Signal Processing and Communications (SIGCOM) research group.
IRIS2 is set to be operational by 2027, and it consists of hundreds of satellites in a multi-orbit constellation. It will be the first European satellite constellation to offer secure communication services on such a large scale, offering connectivity for both government users and mass market purposes. The use cases include command and control of key infrastructure like energy grids, defence and crisis management, mobile and broadband coverage to remove internet dead zones in remote areas, as well as providing back-up for terrestrial communications infrastructure. It is an ambitious plan from the European Commission and follows on previous constellations like Galileo or the Sentinel missions concerning navigation services and earth observation, respectively.
The announced set-up for the satellite constellation is the right direction for building a secure satellite communication system for Europe. Yet, three novel technologies might provide an edge to this European venture: quantum communication services, artificial intelligence, and direct satellite access through 5G. To make use of these three innovation areas, advanced research and development should accompany this EU endeavor.
First, while quantum communication is already envisaged in the context of the IRIS2 programme, further developments are needed to increase the technology readiness. The first use case of quantum communication is to exchange encryption keys over quantum channels which are then used to encrypt sensitive data over digital communication channels. The current IRIS2 programme includes secure quantum encryption based on the European Quantum Communication Infrastructure (EuroQCI). However, there are certain areas of quantum communication in IRIS2 that deem special attention, i.e. efficient orchestration of the end-to-end service, including key exchange, key storage, key management and integration with parallel technologies, such as post-quantum cryptography and public key infrastructure.
Second, artificial intelligence can be used to manage the ground and space components of IRIS2 . The entire system will be massive, consisting of satellites, ground stations, and end users. This makes it a very complex system where resources must be allocated optimally and dynamically, but this comes in the expense of high computational complexity. However, with a sufficient preparatory training, small, lightweight artificial intelligence modules can be integrated into the set-up to allow the system to perform near-optimally.
Third, planning for a future where user terminals (such as tablets, phones, and servers), can connect directly to satellite through 5G or 6G would make communication over IRIS2 more user-friendly. This is cutting-edge technology that promises seamless network access independently of the user location, access point or data route. SIGCOM along with international partners has recently conducted a first-ever successful demonstration, proving the potential of this technology. Enabling users to connect with the IRIS2 system in this way will make it even more effective. For example, in emergency scenarios first responders could use their smartphone seamlessly despite any disruption to terrestrial networks.
The IRIS2 programme will also have a major impact on the Luxembourgish space sector. The Luxembourgish space sector is a very strong and vibrant space ecosystem active in the governmental satellite communication (GovSatCom) area. This includes a range of space companies here that are leading the industry in the roll-out of space quantum and 6G technologies. Luxembourg has all the necessary ingredients to be very actively involved in this ambitious European endeavor.
Prof. Symeon Chatzinotas is the head of the Signal Processing and Communications (SIGCOM) research group at the University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT). He was recently appointed a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organisation dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. An IEEE Fellow is a distinction reserved for select IEEE members whose extraordinary accomplishments in any of the IEEE fields of interest are deemed fitting of this prestigious grade elevation, as stated on the IEEE website.