SSA Programme overview
The Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Programme is being implemented as an optional ESA programme with financial participation by 14 Member States. It began in 2009, and the programme’s mandate was extended to 2019 at the 2012 ESA Ministerial Council. The second phase, Phase II, of the programme is currently funded at €46.5 million for 2013–16.
Under the programme, Europe is acquiring the independent capability to watch for objects and natural phenomena that could harm satellites in orbit or infrastructure such as power grids on the ground. To achieve this, ESA’s SSA programme is focusing on three main areas:
- Space Weather (SWE): monitoring conditions at the Sun and in the solar wind, and in Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere, that can affect spaceborne and ground-based infrastructure or endanger human life or health
- Near-Earth Objects (NEO): detecting natural objects that can potentially impact Earth and cause damage
- Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST): watching for active and inactive satellites, discarded launch stages and fragmentation debris orbiting Earth
Each of these activities is being developed as ‘segment’ (analogous to a satellite’s traditional ‘ground segment’) in parallel sets of capabilities and services, supported by data centres and a Tasking Centre with contributions by existing European infrastructure.
The current Phase II activities place increased emphasis on developing space weather and NEO services, while research, development and validation activities continue in the space surveillance and tracking domain.
The SSA Programme Office is based at ESA’s ESAC Establishment, while technology research and development, project planning and industrial contracting are being conducted by teams located across the Agency, particularly at ESOC, ESRIN and Redu.
In addition to ongoing technology and system architecture work, significant SSA infrastructure has been or is being developed at ESA and partner facilities in several countries, including:
- Space Weather Coordination Centre, Space Pole, Brussels, Belgium
- Space Weather Data Centre, ESA Redu Centre, Belgium
- NEO Data Centre, ESA/ESRIN, Italy
- Space Surveillance and Tracking Data Centre, ESA/ESAC, Madrid, Spain
- SSA Tasking Centre, ESA/ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany
- Development and installation of a monostatic test radar, Santorcaz, Spain
- Development and installation of a bistatic test radar, France
- Initial design of the SSA FlyEye automated telescope to enable full-sky NEO scan
The new Space Weather Coordination Centre and NEO Data Centre will be inaugurated in 2013, and start providing initial information and data to European customers.
Planned developments early in 2013–16
During Phase II, system development work initiated during the 2009–12 Preparatory Programme will continue with the goal of progressively prototyping, developing, testing and validating the main components of the future European SSA system.
In general, activities will take place in the following areas:
- Establishment of data and coordination centres
- Development of sensors, applications and user interfaces
- Deployment of hosted payloads, e.g. placing space weather sensors on host missions
- Utilisation of data from satellites in orbit e.g. Proba-2, SOHO, Gaia
Space Weather Segment
The SWE segment will pursue the required development activities in close coordination with European and international partners.
- Networking and integrating existing European infrastructure through the creation of a series of Expert Service Centres (ESCs)
- Establish a new ESC for Heliospheric Space Weather
- Implementation of the first hosted payload missions
- Procurement of instruments having an identified flight opportunity
- Proba-2 mission exploitation
- Studies of an enhanced space weather monitoring system including sensors orbiting at various Lagrange points
Near Earth Object Segment
The NEO segment will continue observing/scanning for NEOs, predict their orbital evolution and impact risk, store observational and calculated data, issue NEO information, news releases and impact warnings and support NEO mitigation measures in close coordination with international partners.
- Precursor services provision and enhancement
- Data Centre maintenance and enhancements
- NEO observation campaigns
- SSA NEO 'FlyEye' wide-field-of-view telescope development
- Mitigation-related studies
- Development of automatic tasking and data-processing functions
- Potential exploitation of mission data (e.g. Gaia)
In the future full SSA system, the NEO segment will conduct a nightly scan of the complete visible sky with the aim of detecting objects that are only visible when they are close to Earth. Such a ‘wide survey’ is complementary to the ‘deep survey’ being undertaken by NASA (which aims to detect all NEOs larger than a given size).
For newly discovered NEOs, follow-up observations are required to confirm the discovery and establish the orbit. The NEO segment plans to establishment the ability to perform such observations using various European observatories under service agreements.
Space Surveillance and Tracking Segment
In the now-complete Preparatory Phase, the SST segment concentrated on the establishment of initial precursor applications, the characterisation of available European SST assets and the definition of an architecture for a future European SSA system. The segment also contracted with European industry for the development and deployment of two test radars, one each in Spain and France.
SST segment activities for the second period include:
- Further development of SST systems
- Test and validation of radar detection techniques
- Development of software tools, applications and data systems
- Research and development in satellite laser ranging
- Research and development in optical surveillance techniques
SST will also work to implement ESCs focused on laser tracking and optical surveillance and improve the SSA system’s ability to process and update a European catalogue of Earth-orbiting man-made objects.
Participating Member States
The following Member States are participating in Period II of SSA:
SSA is currently funded at €46.5 million (at 2012 equivalent rates) during the Phase II period, 2013–16. This budget is provided by the 14 Member States participating in the programme and was agreed at the 2012 Ministerial Council.
This brings to date the total investment of ESA Member States in the SSA Programme for the period 2009-16 close to a total of €100 million.
The SSA programme is providing strong benefits to European industry. For example, during the 2009–12 initial phase, over 25 contracts were issued to industry for SSA-related work with a total value in excess of €30 million.