February 6, 2018

SST (Space Surveillance and Tracking)

France has joined forces with its partners in the field of space surveillance and tracking (SST) since 2014 to better detect and identify objects in orbit and thus reduce the risk of collisions.

Now that several hundred thousand orbital debris larger than 1 cm are in low Earth orbit (ESA estimates there are approximately 750,000), it is vital to have effective tools for recording and cataloguing them. In response to the risk of collisions and fragmentation, to uncontrolled atmospheric re-entries and to manoeuvres of in-service satellites, the European Union established a framework in April 2014 to support space surveillance and tracking, called EU-SST.

SST is a vital security tool for spacefaring Europe, notably to protect strategic infrastructures like the Galileo positioning system and the Copernicus programme satellites.

The French (CNES), Italian (ASI), Spanish (CDTI), German (DLR) and United Kingdom (UKSA) space agencies are combining their efforts through the European Union Satellite Centre (SatCen) within the EU-SST consortium, of which France is the chair since July 2017 for an 18-month term.

CNES is currently chairing the consortium for France. Through a network of ground sensors (radars, telescopes and laser stations) and data analysis and processing capabilities exploiting the data from these sensors and from the United States, the EU-SST consortium is able to offer operators and users of national and European satellites a high-quality European service in this crucial domain.

CNES is supporting the work of the EU-SST consortium through the operational activities of its Operational Orbit Determination Centre (COO), which processes collision alerts, and through its contribution to defining the future architecture of this system at European level.

CNES is also working closely with the French Ministry of Defence, as space surveillance and tracking is a national security matter. The French GRAVES radar, which detects and classifies objects in low Earth orbit, is thus a key asset of the EU-SST consortium.