What is Space Surveillance and Tracking?

More than 1 million pieces of space debris larger than 1 cm are orbiting the Earth. With 20,000 new satellites expected to be launched over the next decade, this number will increase – as too will the risk of collision in space.

Such a collision could severely damage a satellite, or even destroy it, either of which would result in significant disruptions to services.

To mitigate the risk of a collision between space assets – including Galileo, EGNOS, Copernicus and GOVSATCOM satellites – and other spacecraft and debris, in-orbit fragmentations and uncontrolled re-entries of space objects, the EU established the Space Surveillance and Tracking (EU SST) sub-component of the SSA Programme.

EU SST safeguards space assets, especially EU Space Programme satellites, along with the space assets of EU Member States and other space operators. It uses a network of ground-based sensors capable of surveying and tracking space objects and processing capabilities aimed at providing data, information and services on space objects orbiting the Earth.

EU SST currently provides three services:

  • Collision Avoidance (CA): Assesses risk of collision between satellites or between satellites and space debris and generates collision avoidance alerts.
  • Re-entry Analysis (RE): Assesses risk of uncontrolled re-entry of space objects into the Earth’s atmosphere and generates related information.
  • Fragmentation Analysis (FG): Detects and characterises in-orbit fragmentations, break-ups or collisions, and analyses all available information regarding the object(s) involved in the event.

More than 200 organisations currently receive these services and more than 400 satellites are safeguarded from the risk of collision.

For the implementation of EU SST, established in 2021 as a sub-component of the EU Space Programme, the EU SST Partnership of 15 EU Member States (Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden) together with EUSPA acting as the EU SST Front Desk form the EU SST Cooperation.

EU SST is the key operational capability for the EU’s approach to Space Traffic Management (STM). In this regard, EU SST is continuously improving its core capabilities and developing new technologies to face challenges raised by an increasingly congested space environment, relying as much as possible on the European SSA commercial ecosystem.

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EUSPA’s role

EUSPA has been responsible for the EU Space Programme’s SST Front Desk operations since 1 July 2023. The responsibility was transferred from the European Union Satellite Centre (SatCen) to EUSPA’s Galileo Security Monitoring Centre (GSMC) in Madrid.

The operational information is built by the EU SST Partnership, from the SSA assets and national operations centres that are owned by its Member States.

The Front Desk is the main interface for delivering SST information and services between the EU SST Partnership and the user community, including activities related to user coordination, service performance, engagement and communication.

In addition to its SST Front Desk responsibilities, EUSPA is contributing to the system’s security monitoring, particularly establishing the security requirements needed to shape the SST network in support of the European Commission and the EU SST Partnership.

Updated: Mar 07, 2024