BRUSSELS — The European Union is building its own network of spy satellites, allowing Brussels to ensure nations and private individuals are obeying its policies.
The multibillion-dollar system, known as Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, should be up and running by 2010, a commission spokesman said Monday.
Announcing the launch of a “pilot stage” for GMES, the commission stressed its “user-friendly” application in guiding relief work after disasters or providing real-time images of forest fires or oil spills.
But a commission statement also acknowledged that GMES would play a key role in the “implementation, review and monitoring of EU policies,” including watching for agriculture and fisheries fraud and boosting “internal security.”
In addition, officials hope GMES will support the European Union’s first steps toward becoming a military power. It will “provide authorities with necessary elements for a European Security and Defense Policy,” the commission said.
The commission in Brussels will identify and develop uses for GMES. The management of the satellites will be under the European Space Agency (ESA), which pools the space resources of 15 EU member states, plus Norway and Switzerland.
U.S. politicians are suspicious of the ESA’s “Galileo” project, a 30-satellite global navigation system designed to improve on the Pentagon-controlled Global Positioning System.
The European Union’s invitation to China to become a major investor only increased U.S. concern.
Gregor Kreuzhuber, the commission’s spokesman for industry policy, described GMES as “a little brother for Galileo, a sort of satellite system where you can better monitor what is happening on our planet.”
GMES is intended to exploit assets belonging to EU nations. National governments would retain control over their satellites, Mr. Kreuzhuber said.
Harmonizing the use of national assets in space should mean that Europe does not need to launch a full set of new satellites, though the plan could require some EU spacecraft.
With the ESA, the commission has spent $267 million on preparatory work, and expects the whole project to cost $2.67 billion between 2006 and 2013. Funding is to come from the commission, national governments, and private defense and space firms.