13th May, 2021
Elecnor Deimos is responsible for the construction and installation of the Portuguese Space Surveillance and Tracking System for the Portuguese Ministry of Defence, in the Azores and Madeira archipelagos
The system, composed by a surveillance centre in Madeira Island and an operations centre in Terceira Island, will be providing several services of space safety and awareness. The services are based on Deimos suite of Space Safety operational tools, already providing services for ESA and EUMETSAT missions. Portugal’s Ministry of Defence contract for the provision of the whole SST-PT system was awarded in early 2020 to Deimos Engenharia – the Portuguese branch of Elecnor Deimos – following an international competitive tender.
The Portuguese Space Surveillance and Tracking System is a state-of-the-art infrastructure composed of 2 optical telescopes – one for surveillance and the other for tracking – in Pico do Areeiro, Madeira (the SOO – Optical Observation System) and an Operations Centre in Terceira, Azores (the NOC – National Operations Centre). Other observation capacities are being added to this infrastructure, such as a third optical telescope also installed by DEIMOS on the island of Santa Maria in the Azores.
The PTSST will provide the Portuguese MoD autonomous capabilities for risk assessment of in-orbit collisions and uncontrolled re-entry of space debris into the Earth’s atmosphere, and detect and characterise in-orbit fragmentations. The system is expected to be fully operational by mid-2021 and by then it will be able to survey and track thousands of objects around the Earth every night – but it has already started to perform some of these operations with the tracking of the Chinese rocket Long March 5B before its re-entry in the atmosphere this past weekend.
Elecnor Deimos has a unique capacity in Europe in the field of Space Situational Awareness. Since its creation in 2001 the company has been developing specific technologies and services integrated today in the current infrastructure, operations and services of ESA’s Space Situational Awareness programme. The company owns and operates DeSS, DEIMOS Sky Survey observatory, using the latest technology for the observation (surveillance and tracking) and catalogue of near-Earth space objects. These objects can be natural, such as near asteroids also known as NEOs (Near Earth Objects), or man-made, like satellites and space debris. The centre includes 4 telescopes and provides Elecnor Deimos with operational capabilities across all the stages of the space environment surveillance process from detection, tracking, characterisation and identification of objects to collision avoidance analysis and services.
‘We congratulate Portugal for its vision in setting up this capability in such a timely manner, in advance of the threats posed by the rapid increase in the number of objects in orbit’ says Ismael Lopez, CEO of Elecnor Deimos. ‘The installation of the Portuguese SST was a very challenging project and we are very pleased to have risen to the occasion. We can only hope that SST-PT will be an active and relevant partner in the EUSST consortium’. Nuno Ávila, Director of DEIMOS Engenharia, adds: “After the vast experience and credits established in scientific projects, Deimos demonstrates the ability, and confidence, to bring value in an intrinsically demanding domain such as Defence”.
Our economies and society are more and more dependent on space-based applications such as Earth Observation, Telecommunications and Satellite Navigation. Currently there are more than 2000 operational satellites in orbit around the Earth and this number might double or even triple in the next five years. The accumulation of space objects and debris particularly in low-earth orbits increases the risk of collisions in space and threatens the long-term sustainability of space operations – and a potential re-entry of any object might also cause serious damage on the ground. To mitigate these risks, it is necessary to continuously monitor every object around the Earth and to inform the relevant stakeholders such as satellite operators or civil protection institutions.
Portuguese contribution to the EUSST
The Space Surveillance and Tracking Support Framework was established by the European Union in 2014. This Decision foresaw the creation of an SST Consortium of, initially, five EU Member States – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and United Kingdom – becoming seven with the addition of Poland, Portugal and Romania in 2018 and UK departure as a consequence of Brexit. The Consortium’s Member States have networked their assets to provide a set of SST services to all EU countries and institutions. The SST-PT is the Portuguese contribution to the EUSST.
The Portuguese SST telescopes in Madeira