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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 2 April 2014

Avoiding costly space crashes: European Parliament approves space surveillance and tracking programme

The growing number of satellites and amounts of debris in the space surrounding our planet makes the risk of collision a serious threat to the sustainable operation of EU space infrastructure. Today the European Commission welcomed the European Parliament vote in favour of a proposal to create a European Space Surveillance and tracking (SST) Framework. The purpose of the service is to provide alerts to help reduce the risk of collisions between spacecraft, between spacecraft and space debris, and collisions due to the uncontrolled re-entry of non-operational spacecraft or large debris. The Commission's proposal aims to encourage Member States with relevant space surveillance abilities to work together and pool their means in order to provide the EU with space surveillance and tracking services.

European Commission Vice-President @AntonioTajaniEU, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship commented: "The space surveillance and tracking proposal envisages the pooling of resources to protect our investments in space infrastructure from damage. Avoiding space collisions could save up to €210 million per year and remove a serious risk to the delivery of economic gains expected from the EU's space programmes. I welcome the approval of the Parliament for the Commission's SST proposal and hope for its swift adoption by the Council.”

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 combine their capacities and offer for the first time a European space surveillance and tracking service.

Next steps

The proposal will now be submitted to the Council for its final approval.

Background

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.

More information available:

Link to proposal on Europa website

Space on Europa

Video on space debris: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/newsroom/cf/itemdetail.cfm?item_id=6063

IP/13/172: Keeping the EU's space industry competitive and avoiding satellite collisions

MEMO/13/149: Avoiding damage from space debris - space surveillance and tracking proposal

Contacts :

Carlo Corazza (+32 2 295 17 52) @ECspokesCorazza

Sara Tironi (+32 2 299 04 03)


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