As more state and commercial actors develop and broaden their space activities, there is an increasing requirement for more accurate and comprehensive space situational awareness (SSA) and for these actors to engage in responsible SSA activities. As space technologies advance, owners and operators of these assets require a more comprehensive understanding of Earth’s proximity, including phenomena approaching the planet. The potential dramatic increase in the number of active satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) means that the environment will become more congested, leading to necessary growth in global SSA capabilities to allow continued access to orbits and ensure their sustainability.
The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the current landscape in SSA and space traffic management (STM) and expected developments to provide a range of possible scenarios for future EU–US cooperation in this area. The paper is intended to provide an evidence base for EU space policymakers as they look to discuss future collaborative work with their US counterparts. The work has been completed through a review of the available literature and interviews with selected experts in Europe and the US.
The paper begins with a brief overview of the history of SSA and its crucial role in STM, its importance to space operations and the key actors in its development. It then examines the landscape of SSA activities globally, the different providers (government, military and commercial) and their strengths and weaknesses. This section also focuses on the European position, looking specifically at the activities currently undertaken by European providers and their potential to contribute to international partnerships. The paper later outlines the difficulties encountered in providing SSA, both political and technical, and highlights the gaps in capabilities that need to be filled as SSA moves forward.
The final section of the paper identifies scenarios in which the EU and the US could look to collaborate to provide increased joint SSA capability. For the paper to provide as broad a range of scenarios as possible, it treats SSA and STM in their most complete forms, beyond the tracking of objects to include broader intelligence and analysis of the near-Earth orbit environment. These scenarios will take into account the current capabilities of Europe in this area and the gaps that exist among SSA providers. This is intended to enable EU space policymakers to assess ways that they can cooperate with their US counterparts by adding value and being a trusted partner. Furthermore, it is hoped that this paper will contribute to the existing literature on the subject and act as a blueprint for other actors to become involved in SSA activities.