STUTTGART, Germany – More than half of NATO’s member states, along with its two current invitees, have pledged to take part in a novel initiative that would streamline the alliance’s process to gather data from space.

Sixteen members, along with Finland and Sweden, have signed a letter of intent (LOI) to participate in the Alliance Persistent Surveillance from Space (APSS) effort, which will, once enacted, allow the volumes of data collected by space-based systems to be more quickly and seamlessly processed for NATO headquarters use.

The goal is to not only build on recent advances made in the commercial space domain when it comes to geo-intelligence collection, but to generate cost savings by integrating the space systems, data collection techniques and other resources already existing within the alliance’s members, according to a Feb. 15 NATO statement.

The current participants in the APSS include: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as Finland and Sweden, the statement said. The LOI was signed during the alliance’s annual defense ministerial, held Feb. 14-15 in Brussels.

Once online, the initiative will result in the establishment of a “virtual constellation” of national and commercial space assets, collectively dubbed “Aquila.” From there, the mounds of imagery gathered by such systems – be they derived via electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR), synthetic aperture radar (SAR), or other technical means – will be more easily accessible to NATO’s command structure as well as allies, officials previously told reporters.

The nations who have signed on to APSS can opt into the structure by offering up their own space-based constellations, by contributing collection and analysis tools, or by providing financing to purchase commercially derived space-based data, Wendy Gilmour, NATO assistant secretary-general for defense investment said in a Feb. 13 press briefing at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The alliance did not immediately share how each participating nation would contribute to APSS.

Luxembourg has agreed to contribute €16.5 million ($17.7 million) to launch APSS, which will finance the creation of an “expert team” to work on the project, and to begin integrating current alliance space systems and data, according to NATO. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) for APSS is expected to be signed in the near future.

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.

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