Brussels, 28 February 2013
Keeping the EU's space industry competitive and avoiding satellite collisions
Today, the European Commission proposed measures to keep Europe's space industry competitive and to set up a European satellite collision avoidance system. While the EU is a strong player in the global market for commercial launchers and telecommunication satellites and services, it faces increasing competition from emerging industrial actors in countries such as China and India - competition posing a challenge to the further development of the EU's industry. To address this issue, the Commission proposes a new industrial policy for the European space sector, with a number of targets: to increase industry skill levels, to make finance and investment more readily available, to ensure the EU's independence in space and also to reshape the EU's legislative framework to make it a driver for industry - for example with legislation to promote the production and dissemination of data from satellites for commercial purposes.
These initiatives will be complemented by a surveillance and tracking system to protect satellites from collisions in space. There are around 16,000 objects orbiting the Earth larger than 10 cm, a collision with any of whom would destroy a satellite. The proposed support programme would allow EU Member States that monitor satellites and space debris to pool their capacities and establish, for the first time, a European monitoring system.
European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship, said: "EU investment in space-based infrastructures will open up new opportunities for businesses in Europe. But we need to do more. Without a vibrant space industry in Europe, we will not be able to reap the benefits of our investments. We must provide the conditions to allow our industry to compete at global level, and to create a real internal market for innovative space-based services. In parallel, we need make sure that we can protect these investments in infrastructure from damage."
MEMO/13/146 Action programme for space industry
MEMO/13/149 Avoiding collisions in space
Improving competitiveness of EU space policy
To improve our industry's competitiveness, the new EU space industrial policy proposes actions in the following areas:
Improving the regulatory framework for the space industry to ensure:
Investment in research and innovation: Investments in space R&I should focus on ensuring industry's access to critical technologies and the development of new breakthrough technologies, as proposed under the future Horizon 2020 programme for 2014-2020.
Skills: The European space sector lacks a qualified workforce. Action is needed to attract technicians, engineers and scientists to the European space industry and universities and research centres.
Financing of space infrastructures and procurement: The Commission will explore the possibilities offered by EU funding instruments proposed for the next Multiannual Financial Framework to increase financing for space infrastructures or space-based applications and services, in particular for SMEs. The Commission will also examine whether its approach to space procurement can be improved.
Access to space: The Commission will support the development of a European launcher policy to ensure an independent, reliable, secure, available and cost efficient launcher system.
Avoiding collisions in space
The growing number of satellites and amounts of space debris makes the risk of collision a serious threat to the sustainable operation of space infrastructure. Around 16,000 objects which orbit the Earth are larger than 10 cm, and between 300,000 and 600,000 are larger than 1 cm. An object larger than 1 cm hitting a satellite will at least damage or destroy sub-systems or instruments on board, and a collision with an object larger than 10 cm will destroy the satellite. There is also a risk to ground-based infrastructures and citizens security from the re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere of in-active satellites and discarded sections of rockets.
The most conservative estimates put the potential economic loss for European satellite operators due to collisions - or costly and risky manoeuvres to move their satellites out of the way - at € 210 million per year. The economic loss on the ground due to the disruption of applications and services that rely on the data of lost or damaged satellites cannot be quantified, but implies a significantly higher figure.
In order to mitigate the risks of collision and uncontrolled re-entries it is necessary to monitor satellites and space debris so that satellite operators and public authorities can be alerted in good time. The Commission proposes a programme to support EU Member States that own radars and telescopes capable of monitoring satellites and space debris or relevant data centres, to bring together their capacities and offer for the first time a European space surveillance and tracking (SST) service.