ESA expands at Harwell
The European Space Agency at Harwell is embarking on an ambitious, new expansion of it’s 5G/6G Hub.
The agency is extending the facility’s satellite-enabled communications technologies and pursuing new collaborations with industry, as part of its drive to accelerate the 5G digital transformation of the European economy.
ESA has selected information technology firm CGI to lead the expansion project, backed by the UK Space Agency.The project consortium includes satellite operators Eutelsat and OneWeb as well as mobile network operator Vodafone.
As the world becomes ever more connected, next generation 5G and 6G promises to empower a new wave of digital technologies and services that will change the way people live, work and communicate.
The integration of communications infrastructure on the ground and in space is vital to ensure the provision of continuous, instant and ubiquitous connectivity.
Opened in February 2022 at Harwell Campus, the 5G/6G Hub – located at ESA’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT)– enables companies to explore and realise the enormous potential of these converged networks.
It currently consists of a demonstration room, a technical lab for application and service testing, and private high-capacity integrated networks which cover these spaces.
Over the past year, ESA and its collaborators have already used the hub to complete numerous integration and demonstration tests, with the aim of developing new 5G solutions.
The expansion project will build on this success by adding new features identified through consultation with key experts.
It will include the expansion of the hub’s dedicated networks to cover ECSAT’s surroundings, as well as the development of enhanced satellite services, edge computing, multi-network and multi-orbit orchestration, and improved ease-of-use.
The project team also plans to incorporate environmental impact analysis and recommendations into the hub’s architecture.
A dedicated outreach programme will encourage engagement from both established telecommunications and space companies as well as enterprises that are new to the industry.
ESA expects to announce several new opportunities for collaboration in the coming months.
Antonio Franchi, Head of ESA’s 5G/6G Programme, said: “We are excited to build on the momentum the 5G/6G Hub has picked up over the past year by working with our partners on its next phase of development.
“Collaboration is key to telecommunications innovation, and this project will consolidate the hub’s position as a focal point for the establishment of new partnerships, both within Europe and globally.”
Craig Brown, Director of Investment at the UK Space Agency, said: “This is the first time that ESA has established a 5G/6G Hub in a member state, demonstrating the UK’s position as a world-leader in satellite telecommunications and establishing a flagship facility that will support further growth for this thriving sector.
“The UK Space Agency’s investment in the next phase of the hub’s development will help showcase UK businesses at the forefront of emerging space technologies, catalyse investment into the sector, and enhance collaboration with international partners looking to develop their own 5G capabilities.
“We look forward to following the next steps, led by CGI, as this project comes to life.”
Tara McGeehan, President of CGI UK and Australia, said: “ESA’s 5G/6G Hub enables cross-industry collaboration that will help deliver the UK’s National Space Strategy. CGI is committed to helping our clients in the telecommunications industry integrate satellite technology in their networks and bring better and environmentally sustainable services to their customers.
“The hub will demonstrate and accelerate how satellite communications helps society to benefit from easily accessible resilient communications everywhere in the world.” Nick Gliddon, UK Business Director at Vodafone, said: “Innovation is central to our work at Vodafone so we are really excited to be working with CGI Space, Defence and Intelligence and ESA on this project. By validating the interoperability between 5G networks on Earth and satellite networks in space, we open up exciting new possibilities for connectivity across the world.”