At the end of 2018 Poland became a fully-fledged member of the Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) Consortium. The accession agreement was signed on the 19th of December 2018 in the Polish Space Agency headquarters in Warsaw. Joining the Consortium will allow national institutions and entrepreneurs to participate in projects financed from the European Union funds, whose budget in the current and future financial perspective can go up to over EUR 350 million.

60 years of conquering space by humankind lead to many remarkable scientific achievements and technological progress. However, one of its side effects is a systematic littering of the space. In Earth orbit there are more than 20,000 catalogued debris objects larger then 10 cm and more then 750,000 debris objects of a size between 1 to 10 cm. According to the European Union predictions, there are approximately 1 million space debris larger then 1 cm expected in 2020. These are mainly inactive satellites and their elements, pieces of rockets and space shuttles, which may pose a threat to the security of the citizens (objects re-entering Earth atmosphere) and to the costly infrastructure operating in space, including International Space Station and around 1,800 active navigation, monitoring and communication satellites which provide data used daily around the world. The collision of an operating space object with even a small debris object may cause damage or destruction of such object, leading to the incalculable losses for the economy, critical capabilities of the satellite communication, recognition, navigation and national security.

In order to face this problem, in 2014 European Commission established the Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) Framework, dedicated to monitor space objects (satellites and space debris). Among the Galileo satellite navigation programme and the Earth observation programme Copernicus, SST is a key operational programme of the European Union within the space sector. This initiative is based on the 2014 Decision of The European Parliament and of The Council establishing a Framework for Space Surveillance and Tracking Support, aimed at ensuring long-term accessibility of the European and domestic space infrastructure and services essential for securing the safety of the economy, society and citizens of Europe.

Main purposes of the SST programme are related to:

  1. the assessment and reduction of the dangers related to the launches of the European spacecrafts and their operations on orbit resulting from possible collisions;
  2. the examination and assessment of the uncontrolled re-entering of the space objects and space debris which may pose a threat to the security of citizens and to the ground infrastructure, including the issuing of the warnings about such threats;
  3. the search for ways to prevent space debris from spreading.

SST CONSORTIUM

To coordinate this project, in 2015 European Commission set up the SST Consortium, whose task is to link the capabilities of the member states in order to secure the European and national space infrastructure. Member states have contributed visual and optical sensors able to monitor artificial objects around the Earth along with the data analysis capabilities to the Consortium.

On the basis of the processed data, SST provides services such as risk assessment and providing information and warnings about the actual and predicted incidents in space related to space debris. Such incidents may include collisions and fragmentation of the objects on orbit or uncontrolled re-entering of the space debris to the Earth atmosphere. The information is made available to inter alia: EU institutions, member states and satellite operators. Originally, only leading European states - Germany, France, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom - represented by their national space agencies, were the members of the Consortium. At the end of 2018, Romania, Portugal and Poland joined this group. Poland will be represented by the representatives of the Polish Space Agency.

POLISH INPUT INTO SST SYSTEM

As a member of the SST Consortium Poland will make a contribution to the European SST system, which shall include: 19 telescopes that are located on the entire planet (in Poland, Argentina, Australia, Chile, RSA and USA) and are owned by: the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of the Astronomical Observatory of the Faculty of Physics of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Baltic Institute of Technology in Gdynia and by the private entities: Sybilla Technologies, 6ROADS, a Laser Ranging Service Station belonging to the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Borówiec and several programming tools along with competences related to processing and analysing of the SST data.

The participation in the Consortium imposes several other obligations on our country, including: organisational obligations (creating the branch network of sensors and establishing a national operational centre), staff related obligations (providing human resources for the national SST system), financial commitments (financing the establishment of the SST system with the national funds and absorbing the EU funds) and legal requirements (adapting the functioning of the national SST system to the security requirements set out by the Consortium).

- The accession to the SST Consortium will allow the further development of the domestic capabilities related to observation and situational awareness in space, growth of the competences and the competitiveness of the domestic space sector along with increasing its role in the current and future EU and ESA programmes, and strengthening the position of Poland in the international arena. Therefore, along with other five projects, we included the establishment, development and exploration of the national situational awareness system in the group of big ventures which shall be carried out under the National Space Programme 2019-2021 – said Mr Grzegorz Brona PhD, president of the Polish Space Agency.

STRENGHTENING THE NATIONAL POTENTIAL OF THE SST AND AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE POLISH ENTITIES TO MAKE A LEAP FORWARD IN DEVELOPMENT

The EU has dedicated over EUR 100 million for the SST programme within the current financial perspective and there are currently over EUR 250 million secured for this purpose in the following perspective. Those financial resources shall be used for projects carried out in this sector by the members of the Consortium, including Poland.

Participation in the Consortium will allow domestic entities to participate in ensuring the safety of the European space infrastructure. Primarily, it will allow the faster development of the national SST system, which will provide Poland with the necessary data used to protect future Polish satellites and will underpin national security and defence of the State by monitoring threats coming from space.

The involvement in the European programme brings a high scientific and business potential. Ensuring operability of the observation sensors, constituting the Polish SST infrastructure, the possibility of modernizing it and a demand for new sensors – all of the above will allow Polish entities, who already gain experience during implementation of the projects under the SSA programme (Space Situational Awareness) to increase their capabilities in the SST segment as well as in the optic, laser and radar observation sector.

In the face of growing commercialisation of the products related to the space situational awareness, national entities, who provide solutions and services in this sector, will be able to offer their services on the global market which will continue to grow due to the New Space trend, the continuous placement of higher number of micro – or smaller satellites into orbit, the intended development of satellite constellation project and development of the new sectors such as servicing of the satellites on orbit or – in distant future – obtaining resources from the celestial bodies.

FIRST ACTIONS WITHIN THE NATIONAL SPACE PROGRAMME FRAMEWORK

The launch of the functionality of the SST system, established on the basis of the declared network of sensors by developing national infrastructure and capabilities which allow to implement projects and tasks within the framework of SST Consortium and the increasement of participation of Polish entities in the SSA programme of the European Space Agency, will be first actions undertaken within the framework of the Polish participation in the SST Consortium.

Further actions, including development of the system, shall lead to the establishing of an independent SST infrastructure in Poland, which would meet the needs of the national administration, and to creating an appropriate environment for the creation of new services and products within the SST sector, which would be offered on both the commercial and institutional markets within the State and abroad.

For the implementation of the abovementioned actions there are 27 million PLN provided in the National Space Programme, including 12 million PLN coming from the SST Consortium.

THE FINAL STAGE OF THE SEVEREAL YEARS OF POLISH EFFORTS

The possibility of joining the SST Consortium is an effect of the several years of efforts of Polish institutions, including Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology, Ministry of National Defence, Ministry of Science and Higher Education and Polish Space Agency, which prepared accession application submitted to the European Commission and, together with specialists from the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology, carried out negotiations in the field of establishing the most beneficial conditions of the accession.

One of the elements of the preparation works done by the Polish Space Agency, was the commissioning a feasibility study of the space situational awareness system infrastructure in Poland, with particular reference to the creation of the SST subsystem.

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