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The need for more communication infrastructure leads to more and more satellites roaming around the earth in a rather uncoordinated manner. “The number of satellites is growing exponentially and, with it, the risk of collision. To this we have to add the increase in debris that orbits without control,” Ignacio Mataix, Managing Director of Transportation and Defence at Indra, said during the 12th European Space Conference in Brussels. He highlighted that “Europe must position itself at the forefront in space traffic management capabilities and achieve full operational autonomy in this domain.” To achieve this, he pointed out that Europe must rely on organizations and companies that have been working in civil air traffic for decades and have developed Europe’s world-class air management model.

Mataix identified four main areas, in which the EU must develop strong capabilities: 1) Advanced sensors with which to improve monitoring capabilities, to offer performance in terms of coverage, accuracy and the speed required. “The EU needs new sensors that can track the movements of smaller objects and, for this, adequate investment, both domestically and at the European level, is required.

2) An open architecture data repository of the Space Traffic Management System and a marketplace that facilitates other actors to access and share data. Mataix said that “the more cooperation in terms of quantity, quality and diversity of data, the better space traffic management system we will have” and indicated that “an open repository like this could quickly surpass the American US SATCAT as the preferred system for operators”.

3) Spatial Traffic Management services capable of predicting the movements of objects in space more precisely. To do this, Mataix said it is necessary to devote resources to research, since current models do not factor in the effect of aspects such as solar radiation or internal movements and dynamics of the object itself in orbit. In addition, according to Mataix, Europe must have its own evasion system, which would allow a satellite to automatically analyze the risk and probability of collision in order to avoid it.

4) Reinforced cybersecurity, which prevents the risk of attack on the traffic surveillance and management infrastructure (Space Situational Awareness/Space Traffic Management, SSA/STM) and satellites.

As for the roadmap to follow to achieve these objectives, Mataix said that the development of these technologies is closely linked to the operational concept that is defined, a decision that is still pending but must be taken at the political level.

In this regard, he recalled that “we are not solving today’s problems, but anticipating those of the future” and indicated that, unlike air traffic control, space traffic management will not only affect the operation, but also “the orbit design, the constellations of satellites and the space systems themselves, whether satellites or ground systems.”

Dorothee Frank