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Space and security

Security is one of the key interests of Europe and its citizens. Crisis prevention and management - be it conducted under the Common Security and Defence Policy or within other frameworks like the United Nations - are essential to support security, stability and prosperity in Europe. Space-based assets and systems are critical to ensure security on Earth (security from space) and these assets and systems need to be protected (security of space).

Space and security form an integral part of a comprehensive and coherent European Space Policy.

Space is also a key area to implement synergies between civilian and defence activities. Most space technologies, space infrastructures and space services can serve both civilian and defence objectives. Therefore can contribute to the development of an innovative and competitive European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB)

Security from space

Space-based systems are making an increasingly important contribution to the security of Europe, and to the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), in particular. Europe faces constantly evolving security threats that are now more diverse, less visible and less predictable than in previous decades. Europe needs therefore to have access to the best affordable capabilities for autonomous political assessment, sound decision-making, prevention policies and the effective conduct of actions. Space assets provide a significant contribution to confronting these threats through global monitoring, communication and positioning capabilities.

Copernicus services can make an important contribution to the security needs of the EU and its Member States. Its applications will focus further on the security dimension encompassing such aspects as emergency response, global stability and homeland security by contributing to e.g. maritime surveillance and border control up to food security worldwide.

The Galileo global navigation satellite system will also be of utmost importance to safeguard Europe's interests.

Satellite Communications are also a key element to support security missions and critical information infrastructures. In this area the Commission will encourage the pooling of European military and security SATCOM demand and explore the possibilities to develop in the next generation of governmental SATCOM capability at the European level in close cooperation between the Member States, the European Defence Agency and the European Space Agency


Security of space

Space products and services rely upon satellites, which must be monitored and protected to ensure a safe and uninterrupted service. Earth populations must also be protected from space hazards. Having information on the situation in space is referred to as Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and  is generally understood as covering three main threats: Space Debris, Space Weather phenomena and the Near-Earth Objects.

Space debris (man-made materials from launch activities and obsolete space objects) now represents a major and  growing threat to European space activities as their number increases with in-orbit collisions. A space debris of 1 cm or more – of which there will be 1 million by 2020 - can damage or destroy a satellite.

In order to mitigate the risk of collisions it is necessary to identify and monitor satellites and space debris. This activity is known as Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST), and it is today mostly based on ground-based sensors such as telescopes and military radars coupled with processing facilities. At present satellite and launch operators are dependent on the US data for anti-collision alerts.

The EU is in a process of adopting a Decision establishing a Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) Support Framework. This decision will help support the networking and operations of the SST assets owned by some of the EU Member States as well as the EU satellite Centre with a view to provide SST services to the  EU Member States,  the EU bodies, spacecraft owners and operators, and civil protection authorities. The EU SST services will assess the risks of in orbit collisions, detect and characterize in-orbit fragmentations, break-ups or collisions, and assess the risks of the uncontrolled re-entry of space objects and space debris into the Earth's atmosphere. See the press release and background MEMO.

In order to prevent in the long term the proliferation of space debris, and to ensure greater security in outer space the EU believes in a pragmatic and incremental process. The EU initiative for an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities was launched at the end of 2008 as a mean to achieve enhanced safety and security in outer space through the development and implementation of transparency and confidence-building measures.

Space weather phenomena are changes in environmental conditions such as the Earth magnetic field or radiation due to solar winds, 'space storms' made of particles or electromagnetic radiation. It can cause major failures of instruments on board satellites and it can also severely damage ground-based systems, such as electrical power grids, and lead to blackouts causing significant economic damage.

Near Earth Objects(NEOs) are asteroids or comets that comes close to Earth some of which have the potential to be a hazard to Earth.

Space Debris Space Weather and NEO are addressed in a number of research projects funded under the Space themes of EU's Framework Programme for Research FP7 and Horizon 2020.

In parallel, ESA undertakes research and development activities in the framework of its SSA programme.


On the 19 and 20 June 2014 a Space and Security Conference was organized by the European Commission under the auspices of the Greek Presidency, in cooperation with the General Secretariat for Research & Technology (GSRT), the National Observatory of Athens, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Greek Ministry of Defence.

The conference explored synergies for both civilian and defence use of space technologies, space infrastructures and space services addressing  space services for security but also the issue of security in space.

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