Support to the development of a European SSA Capability (STEP)

The STEP project was an FP7 Support Action (Grant Agreement No. 312249) managed by the European Union Satellite Centre and controlled by Member States. It was launched on the 1st of November 2012 and lasted twenty-one months.

STEP has facilitated the dialogue among key European SSA stakeholders and has supported the creation of a common understanding of governance and data policy issues. By providing a forum of discussion through the organisation of three workshops, it has contributed to bridging the gap between decision makers and technical audiences. From a technical perspective, STEP has contributed to the development of a European SSA-SST data policy, building upon the results of the SPA project and taking advantage of the privileged position of the SatCen as an EU agency, whose “expertise in handling classified information in a secure environment and its tight institutional links with the Member States” are recognised by the SST Support Framework Decision as “assets facilitating the handling and delivery of SST services”.

In particular, STEP focused on three data policy challenges, namely “Service delivery rules”, “Interoperability framework” and “Integration of unclassified sensors”, which have been identified by the SatCen in collaboration with the European SSA stakeholders as key for the development of a European SST capability. Such challenges have been analysed by:

  • Identifying and defining indicative SST services (“Over-flight”, “Conjunction warning”, “Re-entry prediction”, “Catalogue” and “Object fragmentation”) to provide inputs for the creation of innovative SST applications and products.
  • Implementing a demonstration and evaluation platform, to simulate the services, perform scenario-based assessments and validate the results.
  • Identifying best practices and standards for the security and data handling, to allow the development of an efficient European SST capability, taking into consideration the needs of national security and sovereignty of Member States.
  • Taking always as a reference first the Commission proposal for a SST support programme (February 2013) and then the SST Support Framework Decision (April 2014) to adapt the analysis to the constantly evolving European political and legal environment.

STEP has followed an iterative methodology based on three iterations, as described in the following figure:

The workshops organised at the end of each iteration allowed the steering of the analysis according to the feedback received from the participants, which included SST stakeholders coming from Member States, European Union institutions and ESA.

The outcome of the STEP project has been promoted and disseminated, in a controlled manner, among the European Union institutions, the SSA interested parties and the general public. Furthermore, the acquired expertise on SSA-SST, as well as the development of operational tools during the STEP project, have enhanced the core business of the SatCen and benefited its users, highlighting the value of STEP also from an operational perspective. In particular, the representative demonstrator of the satellite over-flight service, named Satellite Overflight Tool (SOT) deserves to be highlighted. Currently hosted in the secure premises of the Centre, the SOT provides information on the opportunities for acquisition of satellite images.

The SatCen has made the SOT available to all Member States.