Almost two years ago, the United States took its first legislative steps on establishing a Space Traffic Management system and framework. These rules should apply to other countries with space activities as well.
As the EU has already similar experiences with US regulations affecting its banking or energy operations, to mention just two of them, the question is what should the EU do to prevent the same thing happening in the space sector. Well, nothing less than thinking big and becoming a space power is what I strongly believe.
We need our own Space traffic management system and not be reliant or dependent on an American one. With this in mind, I put forward a pilot project on Space Traffic Management to the European Commission last year.
It would seem that now is the right time for such an objective, especially as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently said that promoting Europe’s technological sovereignty and strategic autonomy would be key priorities for her term.
A safe, stable, and operationally sustainable space environment is of paramount importance to the EU. But the adoption of US standards, guidelines and norms would have an impact on European industries while generating new markets for Space Traffic Management services for US companies.
Are we going to allow this to happen? Several weeks ago, the European Space Agency had to perform a last-minute avoidance manoeuvre to protect one of its spacecraft from colliding with a Space X satellite in the Starlink constellation.
"We need our own Space traffic management system and not be reliant or dependent on an American one"
In the next period, we will experience a high development of the space field with many satellites out there. More than 5000 spacecraft have been placed in space since the launch of Sputnik 1 in October 1957, of which some 2000 satellites are still active.
There are also more than 5000 objects over a metre long in geostationary orbits, more than 30,000 objects larger than 10 cm and more than a hundred million pieces of debris of one centimetre or less.
This debris poses an increasingly serious risk of collision in space as well as a huge insecurity for our space infrastructure, such as the Galileo and Sentinels satellites.
The pilot project on Space traffic management will have to identify and assess the legal and regulatory challenges, needs and best practices and provide recommendations on Space Traffic Management to both EU and national policymakers.
The results should also compare the pros and cons of international, European and national approaches.
Meanwhile, European industries (launchers, satellites ground segment and operators) must get involved and speak with one voice about their concerns, challenges and technology needs in the area of space traffic management. Certainly, for the EU to become a space power will take more than that.
"Becoming a space power is a matter of EU security and of EU leadership on the global scale"
We need a comprehensive approach which should include a European launching facility for European needs that would provide services for other entities as well.
We also need an EU R&D Programme for launching equipment, continuing support for the Galileo, Copernicus and Egnos programmes, an R&D programme for the new generation of satellites and for providing security of systems. Horizon EU should be the main tool in this direction.
We must also look at spending efficiencies. Thanks to the new Green Deal, we are undergoing a massive and radical paradigm shift. The EU and Member States will put many resources to finance these changes, but as funds are limited, it is necessary to use money efficiently.
An EU R&D programme is therefore absolutely necessary. The Space Joint Technology Initiative should be one of the future European partnerships Regarding Space Traffic Management and Space Situational Awareness, the pilot project on Space Traffic Management can play a crucial role.
The EU’s space industry should have one voice when it comes to putting pressure on EU decision makers to make them aware that becoming a space power is a matter of EU security and of EU leadership on the global scale.