Space for Security and Safety

 Space for Security and Safety

Earlier this month the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) issued its latest report “Space in Support of Security Missions: An evolving landscape with untapped potential”, about the role of space for safety and security of society in a non-military context.

The report notes a positive momentum for future developments in this field, as evidenced by discussions at the recent ESA Security Conference, which took place in November 2021.

Space for law enforcement, crisis management and civil protection

Space technologies, data and services are essential tools for a plethora of organisations tasked with law enforcement, crisis management or civil protection missions. In the last few years only, space-enabled capabilities played a key role in several security-related developments across the globe, for example in:

  • Mapping the impact of volcanic eruptions near Tonga or at La Palma,
  • Detecting human rights violations and forecasting extreme weather events in Africa,
  • Tackling the increasing migratory flows to Europe, on both terrestrial and maritime routes

Also read: Investigative journalism with the help of space

Also read: Wildfire detection from space

Wildfire in a forest
Wildfires devastated many European forests in 2021 (photo: Pixabay)

Role of space for security in Europe

With the evolving user requirements and expanding public and private investments in space-based remote sensing, telecommunications and PNT capabilities, the role of space for security is poised to further increase. This will likely raise new questions regarding technology developments, user engagement, commercial perspectives and synergies across different initiatives.

Today, Europe and its citizens are faced with a multifaceted set of security challenges, ranging from climate change and natural disasters to domains traditionally closer to law enforcement and defence. The solutions to all these challenges are increasingly being addressed through technological advances and space-based infrastructure and derived services are playing a major role in supporting and facilitating informed and timely decision making, both in terms of anticipation, response and recovery.

Climate change is a growing security risk for European cities
Climate change is a growing security risk for European cities (photo: Pixabay)

Indeed, space systems and their applications already support countless missions in the security domain handled by various actors, such as governmental authorities, international organisations, European institutions or non-governmental organisations.

A changing security landscape

In the future, the role of space in addressing security challenges on Earth will need to adapt to a changing security landscape which puts at risk the resilience of European citizens, industries and states. In recent years, several significant and unprecedented developments have demonstrated how the perception of security is impacted by broader societal developments, both in and out of Europe. A few examples illustrating this situation are:

  • The global Covid-19 outbreak and its impact on public health, political stability and economic growth
  • The strong migratory crisis hitting Europe
  • The use of social media by terror groups to recruit their members and share their propaganda
  • Cyberattacks against key infrastructures or to steal crucial information

All these trends and events may impact the national security of states and the security of their citizens. Therefore, political actors are eager to use all possible means to be prepared to face the upcoming changes in the international arena and their domestic environments and to counter potential threats.

Refugees taking to the sea
Refugees taking to the sea (image: Pixabay)

A critical dimension of modern space activities

Security has always been high on the political agenda of European governments and of the European Union but recent developments and expectations of a deterioration of the situation due to climate change and to a tense international and domestic context is putting security into sharper focus. Security has evolved to become a broad and transversal domain requiring faster adaptation and closer cooperation at all levels.

European cooperation has progressed considerably in recent years, including at political level through the European Union, but a whole-of-Europe approach to security is still far out of sight. The national sovereign dimension of security continues to prevail and the European approach to security is still largely influenced by the history, culture, geography, policy, economy and international relations of each European state. Notwithstanding differences in national security strategies of European governments, many areas of shared interests and priorities exist.

It is also in this context that security needs and requirements are increasingly influencing the development of public space programmes and creating new market opportunities for commercial solutions. The space infrastructure, including governmental and commercial systems, now directly or indirectly supports a broad range of security missions.

Location-based services for security organisation
Location-based services for security organisations (image: Pixabay)

The relation between space and security has deepened and security has become an unavoidable dimension of modern space activities, yet the potential of space applications is still largely untapped due to various barriers to security users’ adoption of space applications.

What the European space sector needs to do

The report then continues to list these barriers and ways that space can further support security missions once these barriers have been lifted. This support then should entail:

  • A suitable framework of European space and security policy officials for decision-making
  • An active two-way dialogue between security users and space stakeholders
  • A coordination of activities between space application domains
  • A framework for technology maturation from early concept to operational system/service

Ultimately, enhancing the role of space to address European security challenges is a matter of driving technological change, in this case the overall process of targeted innovation and diffusion of space technologies in the security domain.

Read the full report

The latest ESPI report “Space in Support of Security Missions: An evolving landscape with untapped potential” investigates in more detail two overarching themes:

  • High-level policy, technology and user-related trends, and
  • Outstanding needs and requirements of the user community (the analysis of user needs is based on a consultation of 50 individual organisations).

You can read the full ESPI report here.

Remco Timmermans

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