Space Weather and NEOs in the European Space Policy Actuelles de l'Ifri, The Europe & Space Series, No. 6, August 2011
Although often overshadowed by a focus on security concerns, Space weather and NEOs are important elements of Europe’s SSA program.
The Space Weather (SWE) and Near Earth Object (NEO) components of Europe’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program usually receive scant attention. Indeed, the vast majority of analyses of SSA focus on man-made threats (i.e. security-related aspects such as space debris or transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBM)). Additionally, SWE and NEO threats are more often associated with science fiction than with serious policy-making.
An analysis of the policy options chosen by Europe to mitigate SWE and NEO threats is important however. First it is an issue-area where intra-European cooperation works well. ESA is the sole actor in charge and the only adequate cooperation forum, even if individual Member States show interest in these issues time and again. This could be attributed at least partly to the fact that there are almost no security and defense considerations involved in SWE and NEO issues.
Second, SWE and NEO mitigation activities are perfectly in line with the broader objectives of the European Space Policy (ESP). They foster research and development activities, thus contributing to the strengthening of a strong European space industrial base; they have a high scientific added value and they have indirect societal and economic impact on Earth. Finally, Europe could strengthen its leadership as a global space power by playing a central role in international initiatives in the field of SWE and NEO.
To get a clearer picture of Europe’s SWE and NEO-related activities, we will first consider the general SSA architecture in Europe (1); then lay down why Europe should care about SWE and NEO (2); review past and current actions in these areas (3); and finally replace the issue in an international context (4).