Reconstruction and Discussion of the Agenda-Setting Process of the European Space Surveillance and Tracking Decision

How poor shall a company be that has no patience?

by Jürgen Schmidt (Author)

Essay 2015 15 Pages

Politics - Environmental Policy



1. Introduction

2. Development of the problem of space junk (Problem Stream)
2.1 manifestation of Industies in Lobbyism and Influencing of the Sgenda Setting Process (Solution Stream)

3. Theoretical Perspective

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Every rocket launch into orbit generates new space junk that circulates earth. On its way around our planet space debris is likely to crash into its own kind or working space devices. As a result, more junk is generated. This seems to be a vicious circle and it becomes from year to year more and more problematic. Space junk can even sometimes leave space for some reason and fall all the way down to its birthplace, the surface of the Earth. Than space junk can be compared to meteorites or bombs that fall from the sky and impact. In 2001, the a delta 2 rocket, slammed down in Saudi Arabia (NASA, 2009).

The most effective defence against debris is not to be there where the junk is.

The US started a space surveillance and tracking system (SST) that is able to map space debris. For years, the European Space Agency relied on the data provided by the US system (NASA, 2012). In 2013, the European Commission proposed a decision to the European Parliament for a own European SST. It was accepted in the first reading, in 2014.

A European SST would have been not necessary, the data was already provided. The reason for the agenda-setting of this decision could also lye somewhere else. Maybe the interest of policy makers in SST has increased, because satellites developed into a profitable business. Profits fall, if satellites are destroyed by debris and generate more debris: The European SST is shall give investors assurance to spend money on satellites, by increasing certainty that satellites will not crash with space debris, because of a european SST. It is possible that the SST was melt into a governmental agenda, because of the institutional economical-liberalisation bias of the EU. To support the claim, I attempt to shed light on the behaviour of the different actors, in the agenda-setting process: Who was pushing for the issue to be taken up by the EP, Council and Commission? When did the issue get high up on the political agenda? Why did politicians finally take the issue seriously? What event saw renewed commitment to the issue? Why was the issue previously ignored? For the analysis the agenda setting process, I will focus on the phenomena and facts, followed by the explanation of such incidents with theory. I make use of the multiple streams model, framing and venues. On both paths I concentrate on the agenda setting of the first EU space debris decision (European Union, 2014). It explains the current EUs course of action on the issue of space junk. Its agenda setting process will give insight into the different interest groups and their interplay. In the end it is possible to abstract, from this process, findings that support the claim. The paper will provide a understanding of the lobbyism and the institutional behaviour towards economic liberalisation as a driving force in agenda setting. More practical, it also can be seen as a prognoses to the future role of commercial use of space, in Europe. This becomes a more and more relevant issue. Humanity always expanded and developed, space provides a lot of opportunities to those basic instincts. If investors cannot find a parking space in Maastricht, they might find one in Space: Space is expanding.

The purpose is to illustrate that this bias of economic liberalisation is dynamic. To make general assumptions about a bias is dangerous. Thus, this paper is an answer to Merete Dotterud Leiden’s journal article: “Scope of Negative Integration: A Comparative Analysis of Post, Transport and Port Services” (2014). Here the author only focused on the decision making processes in certain sectors and came to the conclusion that a institutional bias is not such a important driving force. However, she did ignore the fact that a policy cycle does not only consist of “decision making” (Leiden, 2014). In order to understand motives or biases that led to a legal act, it is sine qua non to check on the roots of this very act; the issue is only discussed because actors wanted it on the agenda and the agenda is the determinator of how the issue is discussed (Vesluis, van Keulen & Stephenson, 2011, p.107). Hence, agenda setting can be related directly to policy evaluation and shaping. However, here there was no prior legal act. The problem of space debris needed to climb up the council agenda for the first time. That is why this paper concerns the agenda setting process.

2. Development of the problem of space junk (Problem Stream)

ESA states that the most important sources of space junk are used rockets, and satellite bodies (ESA, 2013). Figure 1 describes a timeframe that starts in 1957 and ends in 2012. It can be recognised that the number of space debris increased almost proportional, until 2007. In 2007, the graph started to increase exponential. Interpreting this fact leads to the conclusion that the multiplicator of space debris grew. This did not happen because of the reason that more rockets launched to orbit, in 2007. The Department of Transportation Statistics keeps the books on Commercial Space Launches (USDOT, 2015) and the numbers of rocket launches to orbit did not increase between 1990 and 2014. In total 560 rockets started in this time period, including 163 European Rocket launches (USDOT, 2015). From 2007 to 2014, worldwide average is of 23 rocket launches per year. This number equals exactly the average rocket launches monitored in the full 24 years (USDOT, 2014). Therefore, the increase in space debris cannot be related to an increase in rocket launches. However, it could be that the rockets carried different loads. The evaluation of this requires technical expertise, I cannot provide. Therefore, the only explanation left is that space debris generates more space debris by collision. For the claim, this graph allows to demonstrate that the problem increased exponential in the last years. The danger of collusion increased and this could be one reason, why the agenda setting process was so fast, in 2012. The Figure 2 can indicate the trust of investors in “space”, as a secure business. Hypothetical: The number of launches increases, if investors trust in such a expansive business. If there is no trust, the number of launches decreases. Their can be other reasons to a decrease/increase in commercial rocket launches. The possibility that a link between investments in the satellite industry and one of the biggest threats to satellites, space junk, results in a decrease in investments, is one convincing link. If we follow this ration of interpretation, Figure 2 illustrates that investors had the most trust, in 1999. On the contrary in 2004 only one commercial rocket was launched, the trust was low. In 2012, the high peak of space debris, 6 rockets launched to orbit. Given that the numbers of space debris always are added up in the next year, the rockets were launched on the data of 2011. The interpretation of these findings can be that space junk is not related to trust in investments, because Figure 2 shows that the numbers stay almost the same. However, Figure 2 can also be understood as that the satellite industry still launches rockets to space, because this business is so profitable.

I will take the second angle. Launches worldwide were still at the average of 23 per year, it seems that the profits outweigh the dangers. So, politicians took the issue serious when the number of space junk started to develop exponential and reached a high peak, in 2012. Because of the promising space industry and on the other hand the increasing number of space debris. However, to come to this conclusion and first and foremost, to support the claim, more arguments are needed.

2.1 Manifestation of industries interests in lobbyism and influencing of the agenda setting process (Solution Stream)

To support the argument, it is helpful to focus on the character of the solution, to the problem of space debris. A SST is a highly complex and extremely expansive system. About 70 mio. € makes its annual budget that was set in the Council decision, in 2014 (European Union, 2014). Hence, it can be a profitable business.The assumption that the Airbus Group SE could be involved in this issue is not beside the point. Airbus developed a blueprint called “Space Police”, in 2008 (Airbus Group SE, 2015). “Space Police” is a SST solution to space debris. If Airbus already developed such a blue print, they probably wanted to sell it. Moreover, the Head of the SSA Programme at Airbus Defence and Space (SSA equals SST) said that the actual “development [of the SST] will to a large extent depend on the funding allocated at the next ESA ministerial meeting in late 2012” (Airbus Group SE, 2015). This implies on the Airbus side, that the project is only feasible, if the EU does buy it.

In late 2012, the ministerial conference decided to continue “the build-up of a SSA capability in close cooperation with ESA’s Member States and European partners. This programme provides the information to help protect European space systems against space debris” (ESA, 2012). In 2012, this point was made under the overall framework of the Space Council meeting that was namely to focus investments “on fields with high growth potential” (ESA, 2012). So the Airbus Group made the inclusion



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Maastricht University
Policy Analysis Europe Space Money Subsidies Space Debris


  • Jürgen Schmidt (Author)



Title: Reconstruction and Discussion of the Agenda-Setting Process of the European Space Surveillance and Tracking Decision