The number of satellites and debris in space constantly increases due to new developments in reusable launchers, small satellites and more and more private initiatives in space. Congestion in space puts at risk the security and resilience of EU’s and Member States’ space assets.
There are now more than 1 million debris items larger than 1cm orbiting around Earth, and this number is growing as more than 20,000 additional satellites are expected to be launched in the next ten years. These pieces of “space junk” are orbiting the Earth and are likely to create severe damages, and potentially destruction, to any satellite in case of a collision.
Space Traffic Management (STM) encompasses the means and the rules to access, conduct activities in, and return from outer space safely, sustainably and securely.
The EU approach to Space Traffic Management aims at securing the long-term viability of space activities by ensuring that space remains a safe and secure environment. Because the European economy, society and citizens rely on space-based applications such as communications, navigation and Earth observation.
Space Situational Awareness (SSA)
Space Situational Awareness (SSA) means a holistic approach towards the main space hazards, including collision between satellites and space debris, space weather phenomena, and near earth objects. It covers the following three main areas:
Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) of man-made objects.
Space Weather (SWE) monitoring and forecast of solar activity, and other phenomena.
Near-Earth Objects (NEO) monitoring (only natural space objects).
The EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST)
Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) is the operational pillar of the EU approach to Space Traffic Management. It is essential for protecting space-based infrastructure, facilities and services.
The European Union already has SST capabilities, thanks to those made available by Member States within the EU SST consortium. Already 278 European satellites are being monitored against the risk of collision. More than 135 public and private organisations from 23 EU Member States are benefitting from EU SST services to better prevent collisions of satellites with debris and thus offer a better protection of global space assets.
Facts and Figures in 2021
EU actions ahead for Space Traffic Management (STM)
The EU approach to STM proposed by the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR/VP) will enhance capabilities, norms and engagement while preserving EU interests in line with the respective competences of the Union and its Member States. It calls for an EU contribution to this global challenge along four key lines of actions:
- Assessment of STM requirements and impacts for the EU: An inclusive and transparent consultation mechanism will be set up to gather STM requirements of all relevant EU partners. Regular dialogue on STM-related developments will cover both civilian and military needs.
- Enhancement of EU SST capabilities to support STM: To respond to STM challenges, the EU SST capabilities need to be improved to foster a sufficient level of autonomy. Research and development activities will be accelerated for the development of automatic collision-avoidance services and for the use of artificial intelligence and quantum technologies.
- Establishment of STM regulatory aspects: Regulatory aspects of STM comprise non-binding measures (standards and guidelines) and binding obligations (legislation) at Union level. Positive incentive measures will be put in place to foster the use of the guidelines and standards by EU operators.
- Promotion of the EU STM approach at a global level: The EU STM approach aims to contribute to a challenge affecting a diverse community of actors, pairing existing regional capabilities and tools with an overall ambition for global cooperation. The European Union will work with key partners and at multilateral level to actively promote pragmatic and concrete solutions towards a global STM.
Inaugural Event of the European Union Industry and Start-up Forum on STM 26 April 2022
With the European Union Industry and Start-up Forum launch event on the 26th of April 2022, DG DEFIS in close collaboration with the European Space Surveillance and Tracking (EU SST) Consortium aimed to establish a Forum to foster the innovation and competitiveness of the SSA’s commercial sector to achieve a higher level of strategic autonomy in Europe.
Download the presentation of the EUISF launch event:
‘Building a common EU approach on STM ?’ – Hybrid event with MEP Marinescu
On 23 March 2022, DG DEFIS organised a conference towards ‘Building a common EU approach on STM’, hosted by MEP Marian Jean Marinescu. The event was taking place in the context of the STM Pilot Project initiated by the European Parliament. The panel discussion gathered key stakeholders on space traffic management and served as an opportunity to present the proposed key actions.
Download the Programme and Presentations: