EU to coordinate space-debris tracking to protect its satellites

The information gathered will be available to all

The European Commission on Thursday set out new plans to better coordinate the surveillance and tracking of space debris in order to protect satellites.

Currently, European satellite operators almost completely depend on United States space surveillance and tracking information. But the new proposals would bring together E.U. member states' existing capacities, such as ground-based telescopes, radars and surveillance and tracking (SST) data centers, to help the bloc become more self-sufficient.

Space debris consists of human-made objects in Earth's orbit that no longer have a useful purpose, such as pieces of launched spacecraft. It is estimated that up to 600,000 objects larger than 1 centimeter and at least 16,000 larger than 10 cm orbit Earth. An object larger than 1 cm hitting a satellite would damage or destroy sub-systems or instruments on board and a collision with an object larger than 10 cm would destroy the satellite, according to Commission figures. The number of objects larger than 1 cm is expected to reach around 1 million in 2020.

The only reliable protection against space debris colliding with satellites is to monitor and catalog the orbiting objects. Once an object's trajectory is tracked, satellite operators can be alerted to move their satellites.

The risk of collision leading to a complete or partial loss of a satellite is estimated at once every three years, but some European space agencies operating satellites report that on average they carry out one collision avoidance maneuver every month.

Economic losses for European satellite operators stemming from collisions or costly and risky maneuvers to avoid collisions are currently assessed at around ¬140 million (US$183 million) per year, the Commission said in a statement.

Under the new Commission proposal, the Europe-wide SST service would be available to all civilian (public or commercial) and military satellite operators as well as public authorities concerned with civil security.

Of the 950 active satellites orbiting Earth in January 2011, 19 percent were European, according to Booz & Company. As of then, 389 satellites were at Geostationary Earth Orbit, which is mainly used for satellite communication, with 63 in Medium Earth Orbit primarily for satellite navigation and 470 were in Low Earth Orbit, which is mostly used for Earth observation.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags popular sciencetelecommunicationsatelliteeuropean commissiongovernment

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?