Germany's new Air and Space Operations Center in North-Rhine Westphalia
Photo: dpa/ Carsten Hoffmann

BerlinWith a new Bundeswehr space operations centre, Germany's defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer wants to strengthen the country's capabilities to protect its own satellites from attacks and space junk. 

The opening of the "Air and Space Operations Center" (ASOC) on Monday in Uedem, North Rhine-Westphalia, was "a first step in the planning and management of space operations", the defence minister and CDU party leader said on Monday.

Germany's Air Force Inspector General, Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, said the aim was to "protect what we have in space." Much of modern technology such as telecommunications and the internet are dependent on satellites. According to satellite tracking site n2yo.com Germany currently has 67 satellites in orbit.

The new centre was built as part of the air defence installation at Paulsberg near Uedem from where the Bundeswehr, the German military, monitors German airspace. In the event of a threat, the centre can issue commands to dispatch fighter aircraft. Now, German assets in low earth orbit will also be monitored from there.

The Space Operations Centre will not only help to protect satellites from disruption and attack, but will also monitor stray objects that may pose a threat to populated areas when they re-enter the atmosphere. The centre will initially be staffed by 50 specialists. That number is expected to grow to 150 by 2031.

Some existing capabilities will be incorporated into the new programme, such as GESTRA (German Experimental Space Surveillance and Tracking Radar) on the outskirts of Koblenz that tracks and catelogues space vehicles in orbit. GESTRA was developed on behalf of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) by the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Technology (FHR). The space observation radar TIRA near Bonn can be used if military monitoring staff want to take a closer look at an object in space. 

Critical military experts say it makes little sense for Germany to separate air and space monitoring, regardless of the physical differences. Germany is thus taking a different path than the United States, which has established its own Space Force. The US is Germany's most important global partner in such matters, while in Europe it cooperates most closely with France.

By contrast to the US, China and Russia, Germany is unable to respond militarily to attacks in space since the Bundeswehr lacks the necessary space weaponry. Threats from other countries would first be tackled with diplomacy. In a scenario such as a laser attack, "passive defence" measures such as altering the satelite's position could be deployed.