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European Space Agency Shares Space Safety Programme Plans to Tackle Space Debris and Use AI to Boost Cyber-Resilience

The European Space Agency (ESA) has this week outlined its Space Safety Programme (S2P) plans on how to boost awareness of threats from space to vital infrastructure, both on Earth and in orbit, and how to protect them: plus its planned use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to significantly improve the sustainability, security and resilience of ESA space missions and operations.

Headshot of Dr Daniel Fischer ESA. Image Credit: European Space Agency

Primary space-based threats include space weather, naturally occurring space-born objects like meteoroids, and artificial space debris. ESA Member States have encouraged ESA to implement a “Zero Debris” approach for its missions and to enable other actors to pursue similar paths, putting Europe at the forefront of sustainability on Earth and in space while preserving the competitiveness of its industry.

“ESA is implementing a “Zero Debris” approach, with the objective that ESA missions entering design phase after 2030 will not leave behind any significant debris objects in orbit,” explained Holger Krag, Head of the ESA Space Safety Programme.

ESA is also investing in key initiatives to increase the cyber resilience of operations, including a Space Cybersecurity Operations Centre: and targeting a security-certified multi-mission operations ground segment.

“ESA has embraced Artificial Intelligence as a strategic technology,” said Mariella Spada, Head of Ground Systems Engineering and Innovation at the European Space Agency. “It unlocks efficiency gains through AI-enabled automation and is also of key importance to future cybersecurity developments by enabling intelligent detection of threats to space systems.”

Sustainable and Resilient Mission Operations

Speaking ahead of this year’s Software Defined Space Conference in Tallinn, Estonia, where he is a keynote speaker, Dr Daniel Fischer, Head of Ground System Segment and Cybersecurity Engineering at ESA, went into more detail.

“As we move further into the third decade of this century, the space economy is growing, and space-based services have permeated every aspect of our daily lives. They have become critical infrastructure upon which our society depends. The number of smaller, more agile, spacecraft in use around the Earth is growing significantly, and these craft are becoming more and more integrated into our terrestrial infrastructure.

“This development does not come without challenges. Space traffic management and zero debris spacecraft operations ensure that we can sustainably continue to make use of the space environment. Likewise, resilience, especially from a cybersecurity perspective, is a key feature in times of growing geopolitical tensions and increasingly hostile cyber-threats.

“Working with our member states’ national governments, the European Space Agency is driving forward the technical developments necessary to achieve sustainable and resilient mission operations for Europe.”

ESA Cybersecurity Framework Plans

Dr Fischer will be speaking at 10.05 EET on Day Two (Thursday 2 November) of this year’s Software Defined Space Conference and will explain the ESA’s Cybersecurity Framework, and also outline the organisation’s plans to ensure long-term resilience of its own and other European space assets in general, including important technology research in the domain.

“The deployment of a Cybersecurity Operations Centre at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) and the European Space Security and Education Centre (ESEC) will deliver to Europe a capability to detect cybersecurity attacks to the end-to-end space infrastructure,” explained Dr Fischer. “Understanding that most cyber-attacks on space infrastructure target ground-based systems and assets, the European Ground Operations System Multi-Mission Generation (EGOS-MG) will enable fully secure operations of multiple spacecraft and missions at the same time, creating synergies while maintaining the necessary security posture.

“Research and development in ground segment cybersecurity capabilities is fundamental to address the needs of future missions,” he continued. “ESA is pushing development in the area of zero-trust ground segments, secure space-link communications, space cybersecurity engineering framework, as well as key developments in adjacent technology fields such as Artificial Intelligence and Digitalisation. Finally, through its OPS-SAT programme, ESA and Europe are constantly executing cybersecurity-based experiments to understand better space cybersecurity attack and defence techniques and the associate technologies.”

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