ESA/NASA – T. Pesquet
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Threats from space

The Solar System is only a quiet and peaceful place at first glance. This is because Earth is threatened by numerous natural dangers from outer space: the Sun bombards us with high-energy radiation in the X-ray and UV spectrum and particles – what is known as the solar wind. Asteroids – particularly Near Earth Objects (NEOs) – repeatedly come disturbingly close to Earth and pose a serious threat. Fortunately, the magnetic field and atmosphere protect Earth from most of these ‘cosmic attacks’, like a mighty shield. The former largely blocks the Sun's radiation, while the latter fends off smaller objects by burning them up upon entry to the atmosphere. But like any protective shield, Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere cannot ward off all threats. Violent solar storms can disrupt the on-board electronics of satellites or interrupt radio signals from navigation and communications systems. Particularly high-energy solar bombardment can even have a direct impact on Earth and impair the operation of critical infrastructure – for example, through disruptions or even a failure of power and communication networks. Some asteroids survive entry through our atmosphere. During their long flight through the Universe they have gained tremendous momentum and are thus hurled with tremendous force onto the surface, where they can cause devastating damage.

In addition, countless space debris from satellites and rockets orbit the Earth and can strike and damage our active satellites. We need to recognise all these threats in time to be able to react to them. This is exactly what ESA's Space Safety Programme (S2P) and the four programme elements COSMIC, Vigil, HERA and ADRIOS are working on.

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German contribution to more space safety

Space safety – united in one programme

Asteroids come dangerously close to our Earth time and again. This is why we need to know their trajectory precisely. (ESA/P. Carril)

In order to be better able to address hazards from space, ESA developed its Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Programme into the Space Safety Programme (S2P) on the occasion of the Space19+ Ministerial Council in Seville, Spain. Its activities on the sustainable use of space and protection against threats from space have been combined in one envelope. The planned activities cover the following topics:

Space weather forecasting of solar flares and cosmic rays

Planetary defence to protect against near-Earth asteroids or comets

Clean space through space debris mitigation and active removal

COSMIC — a new incubator in the S2P programme

Solar storms can also threaten critical infrastructure such as power and communication networks here on Earth. (ESA & NASA/Solar Orbiter/EUI Team)

In the S2P core activities within the COSMIC element, research and development activities from the areas of space weather, near-Earth objects, space debris and clean space are continued in the COSMIC element within the S2P core activities. Here, targeted industrial and university participation can expand existing knowledge to gain information about threats to European infrastructure in space and on Earth — and thus also help avoid imminent economic damage. Many such activities in COSMIC are of interest to German institutions. For example, within the Space Weather Service Network, the Ionosphere Weather Expert Service Centre is coordinated by the DLR Institute for Solar-Terrestrial Physics in Neustrelitz. It combines Germany's and Europe's scientific strengths and develops corresponding forecast services – for satellite and network operators, for example, as well as for aviation. To this end, the German-Austrian magnetometer SOSMAG has been providing important space weather data since its launch on 4 December 2018 on board the Korean satellite GEO-KOMPSAT-2A.

  • Cornerstone 1 - Vigil
  • Cornerstone 2 - HERA
  • Cornerstone 3 - ADRIOS

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