The European Union is outlining a plan to strengthen space traffic control capabilities

WASHINGTON – The European Union is implementing a new space traffic management initiative to enhance its capabilities in this area, working with both the United States and the United Nations.

The European Commission published on 15 February “Joint communication” outlining the EU’s approach to space traffic management (STM), calling for increased EU capabilities for tracking objects, and promoting the development of international rules for responsible, safe space operations.

“We intend to propose a European approach to space traffic management, covering operational and regulatory needs, but also to enable us to continue international cooperation,” EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told a news conference on 15 February. primarily dedicated to the proposed secure connection group and protection programs.

Part of this proposal in the joint communication provides for improved capabilities of the EU’s Space Observation and Tracking (SST) program. This program provides European satellite operators with notification of the combination, but primarily relies on a catalog of US space objects, supplemented by some European data.

The EU proposes to create its own space resources, including the creation of tracking facilities outside continental Europe to ensure better coverage. The proposal also calls for the development of automated collision avoidance technologies and “quantum technologies” to reduce the risk of collisions. The document aims to “develop an architecture analysis” by mid-2023 to upgrade the EU’s SST system and by 2025 to begin deploying new tracking tools.

Earlier, European officials recommended developing additional space tracking capabilities. “We are very grateful to receive collision warnings from our US partners, but it would be much better if we did not have to rely on others,” said Rolf Dancing, European Space Agency’s Director of Operations, during the panel session. European Space Conference in January.

“We continue to rely on US data,” said Pascal Foscher, chairman of the EU’s SST consortium, during the same panel. According to him, European assets were able to track only about 300 of the more than 1,500 fragments of the November demonstration of Russian anti-satellite weapons. “It shows us that we need to invest more in our capabilities.”

The joint statement did not specify funding for the modernization of SST, but said that 75% of the money would go to European companies. This shows the EU’s Cassini initiative to support new space companies may play a role in this effort.

“The commercial sector can do more,” said Chiara Manfletti, chief operating officer of Neuraspace, at the conference panel. This Portuguese company applies artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to space situational awareness data to provide more accurate reports of possible collisions. “It’s easy to say that the public sector needs to invest more money, but we also need to create an ecosystem.”

Foscher said he is interested in working more closely with European companies on STM opportunities such as buying commercial data and developing new services. “There are a number of new domains where we can count on commercial operators,” he said.

Improving European space tracking capabilities is only one part of the proposal. The joint communication also called for the development of European “guidelines and standards” for STM, but it was unclear what these guidelines and standards would include. This will lead to an EU legislative proposal on STM rules by the end of 2024.

These rules could potentially apply to satellite operators outside Europe. The proposed rules “should also ensure that EU operators do not suffer from distortions of competition from non-EU operators who use less stringent standards,” the document said, possibly by introducing equal treatment of EU operators and any satellite operator that intends to provide services within the EU. “

Another aspect of the proposal aims to develop multinational STM agreements, primarily through the UN, which includes that the EU “works with the UN to identify or assist in setting up special bodies for STM to implement specific STM solutions globally”.

However, the EU is also committed to bilateral STM cooperation, such as “privileged” discussions with the United States. “The U.S. is the most advanced player on STM, investing billions of dollars in space situational awareness capabilities,” the document said. “While the EU must first develop its own STM approach, it must do so in close cooperation with the US.”

One former US official offered an ambiguous assessment of the EU’s STM plans. “On the one hand, it’s another horn bell that indicates that this is such an important issue,” said Kevin O’Connell, former director of the Space Trade Office, during an FAA session of commercial space transport. Conference 17 February.

He saw strength in supporting STM’s commercial opportunities. “On the other hand, there is also a desire to be a world leader in standards, as well as a desire to transfer ultimate ownership to this UN,” he said. “That’s not something we would agree with.”

His skepticism about the UN, he said, was based on a slow pace of progress that was further slowed by Russia, which forced the UN to postpone the first meeting of a new open-ended working group on space behavior from mid-February to early May.

“I think we need to look for the private sector to develop traffic rules in space,” he said, comparing it to the development of maritime rules. “The private sector has led to the development of practical traffic rules, which eventually became codified.” The European Union is outlining a plan to strengthen space traffic control capabilities

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