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Space and security

Space and security

Security forms an integral part of European Space Policy. Space-based assets and systems are critical to ensuring security on Earth (security from space). At the same time, these assets need to be protected in the difficult environment of outer space (security of space). Most space technology, infrastructure, and services can serve both civilian and military objectives. They can therefore 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 European security and to the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Europe faces constantly evolving security threats that are more diverse, less visible, and less predictable than before. To deal with them, it needs the best affordable capabilities for autonomous political assessment, sound decision-making, prevention policies, and effective action. Space assets provide a significant contribution to confronting these threats through their global monitoring, communication, and positioning capabilities. For instance:

Copernicus

The European Earth Observation Programme Copernicus improves emergency response, global stability, and homeland security by contributing to maritime surveillance, border control, and global food security.

Galileo

The Galileo navigation satellite system will facilitate civil protection operations in harsh environments, speed up rescue operations for people in distress, and provide tools for coastguards and border control authorities. It will also enable new security-related applications that can help locate stolen property or lost pets and individuals.

GOVSATCOM

In a context of increased security threats, there is a growing need for secured satellite communications (SATCOM) to support institutional users in the execution of security missions and the protection of critical information infrastructure. 

The European Commission is exploring the possibility of developing the next generation of governmental SATCOM capabilities at European level in close cooperation with EU countries, the European Defence Agency, and the European Space Agency.

In November 2014, the Commission launched a study on the “Identification of the requirements for Satellite Communication to support EU Security Policies and Infrastructures”. This report will serve as a basis for further work to better define civilian user requirements complementing EDA's activities on military user requirements. 

Security of space

Space-based products and services rely on satellites which must be monitored and protected against threats to ensure a safe and uninterrupted service. At the same time, people on Earth must be also be protected against space hazards such as asteroid strikes. Being informed about the situation in space is referred to as Space Situational Awareness (SSA). It covers three main themes:

  • Space debris
  • Space weather phenomena
  • Near-Earth Objects

Space debris

Space debris is manmade defunct material orbiting the Earth, such as spent rocket stages from launch activities and obsolete satellites. It represents a growing threat to European space activities as an object of 1cm in length or greater can damage or even destroy a satellite. By 2020, there is expected to be around a million of these objects in orbit.

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 is mostly based on ground-based sensors such as telescopes and military radar coupled with processing facilities.

At the moment, satellite and launch operations are dependent on US data for anti-collision alerts. However, the EU has adopted a Decision to establish a Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) Support Framework. This will support the networking and operations of SST assets owned by some EU countries, as well as the EU Satellite Centre, in order to provide SST services to all EU countries, EU institutions, spacecraft owners and operators, and civil protection authorities. The EU SST services will assess the risk of in-orbit collisions; detect and characterise in-orbit fragmentations, break-ups, or collisions; and assess the risk of uncontrolled re-entry of space debris into the Earth's atmosphere.

In application of Article 7.4 of Decision No 541/2014/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April establishing a Framework for Space Surveillance and Tracking Support (SST), the Commission is publishing the list of EU countries participating in the SST Support Framework as of 18 March 2015. They are:

  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom

This participation is the result of individual applications submitted by each country and of the positive assessment of these applications by the Commission on the basis of Article 13 of the Commission Implementing Decision of 12 September 2014 on the Procedure for Participation of the Member States in the Space Surveillance and Tracking Support Framework (C(2014) 6342 final), against the criteria set out in this Implementing Decision.

The EU has also launched an initiative for an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities in 2008 to achieve enhanced safety and security in outer space through the development and implementation of transparency and confidence-building measures.

Space weather phenomena and Near-Earth Objects (NEOs)

Space weather phenomena include changes to Earth’s magnetic field, radiation from solar winds, 'space storms' made of particles, or electromagnetic radiation. These events can cause major instrument failures on satellites. They can also severely damage ground-based systems such as electrical power grids, leading to blackouts and significant economic damage.

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

Space weather phenomena and NEOs are addressed in a number of research projects funded under the Space themes of the EU's Framework Programmes for Research FP7 and Horizon 2020. The ESA also undertakes research and development activities in its own SSA programme.

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