Protection against space hazards, in orbit and on the ground, is of increasing relevance and importance for ESA – with 16 operational satellites and 12 missions in preparation. For this reason the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Preparatory Programme was launched at the Ministerial Council 2008 to prepare and raise awareness at European level on this issue.
The objective of the SSA programme is to support Europe's independent utilisation of, and access to, space through the provision of timely and accurate information, data and services regarding the space environment, and particularly regarding hazards to infrastructure in orbit and on the ground.
In general, these hazards stem from possible collisions between objects in orbit, harmful space weather and potential strikes by natural objects that cross Earth's orbit.
The SSA programme will, ultimately, enable Europe to autonomously detect, predict and assess the risk to life and property due to remnant man-made space objects, re-entries, in-orbit explosions and release events, in-orbit collisions, disruption of missions and satellite-based service capabilities, potential impacts of Near Earth Objects, and the effects of space weather phenomena on space- and ground-based infrastructure.
Proposal to the Ministerial Council
The programme’s next phase, Period 2 covering 2013-16, will be proposed to continue supporting the long-term objective of building a European SSA capability in close cooperation with Member States and relevant European partners.
The objectives of this phase are to further develop, test and validate essential SSA capabilities and prepare pre-operational services in surveillance and tracking (SST), Near Earth Objects (NEO) and space weather (SWE) activities.
Activities performed as part of this programme will help to establish the capabilities on which an overall European SSA network will build upon. The operation, data exploitation and dissemination, and delivery of services will be allocated to operational entities still to be defined for each of the SSA segments, and are not part of this programme proposal.
Period 2 will be structured as follows:
- Component 1 covers all SST-related activities (SST Core and SST radar);
- Component 2 is dedicated to all SWE and NEO activities;
- A dedicated slice will be allocated for the development of a mission in cooperation with China, KuaFu. Within ESA, this mission will be a joint Space Science and SSA initiative.