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EU aims to prevent astronomically costly crashes in space

The island of Cyprus is partially visible among the clouds with the European Space Agency's Columbus module in the foreground in this image
The island of Cyprus is partially visible among the clouds with the European Space Agency's Columbus module in the foreground in this image

By Teddy Nykiel

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A new EU-wide system to track satellites could help reduce collisions with orbiting space debris, crashes that cost operators millions and could knock out mobile and GPS networks.

The system, proposed by the European Union's executive, aims to help monitor dangerous space junk and alert satellite operators to collision risks ahead of time, the European Commission said on Friday.

The EU could get a "big bang" for its buck, since last-minute course changes to satellites are estimated to cost operators 140 million euros ($183.03 million) each year, with that cost expected to rise over 10 years.

When satellites aren't able to move out of the way in time, impacts can damage delicate electronics and reduce their operational life. They can also disrupt mobile phone calls, cause flight cancellations and interfere with weather forecasts.

The proposal would help EU member states combine their space surveillance systems and encourage them to invest in new technology.

Setting up and operating the service will cost roughly 10 million euros a year and could be up and running by 2016, a Commission spokeswoman said.

She said the EU will pay this cost, in the hope that it spurs around 50 million euros in further investment from member states in new technology like radar, telescopes, and data centers.

Space debris includes any man-made litter left in space - parts of rocket launchers, inactive satellites and broken pieces from past collisions.

Many thousands of space debris objects orbit the earth and have potential to crash into expensive satellites or injure people on the ground.

($1 = 0.7649 euros)

(Reporting By Teddy Nykiel, Editing by Ethan Bilby and Paul Casciato)

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