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Defense, Commerce Departments select companies to prototype space traffic management solutions

COMSPOC., ExoAnalytic Solutions, Kayhan Space, KBR, NorthStar, Slingshot Aerospace and the Space Data Association will participate in a pilot project
Maj. Gen. William Shelton

WASHINGTON — The Office of Space Commerce and the Department of Defense announced Dec. 6 they have selected six commercial firms to prototype space traffic data platforms that track objects and medium and geostationary Earth orbits.

COMSPOC Corp., ExoAnalytic Solutions, Kayhan Space, KBR, NorthStar Earth & Space Inc. and Slingshot Aerospace received contracts for a pilot project to demonstrate the use of commercial technologies for space traffic management. The Space Data Association also is participating in the project. 

This pilot project marks a key step toward implementing a 2018 presidential policy directing the Department of Commerce to provide spaceflight safety services for civil and commercial satellite operators, a job currently performed by the U.S. military.

The Office of Space Commerce and the Defense Department signed an agreement in September formalizing their commitment to cooperate. The OSC is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The pilot project, focused on MEO and GEO orbits, “will explore how, and to what extent, commercial space situational awareness services can be used to augment or replace government services for commercial and civil space traffic coordination,” NOAA said in a statement.

The commercial and civil space tracking and situational awareness services will migrate to the Commerce Department starting in fiscal year 2024. This will require Commerce to stand up a space data management infrastructure and figure out processes for issuing collision warnings to operators when their satellites come dangerously close to others, or debris objects approach active satellites. 

The seven vendors will perform “real-time civil spaceflight safety functions, including satellite tracking, spaceflight safety analysis and notification and anomaly detection and alerting over a two month period,” NOAA said. The Space Data Association will collect feedback from commercial satellite operators on the usefulness of the service provided.

The Office of Space Commerce decided to start with only MEO and GEO orbits, which are less congested. A separate pilot project is planned for the much more challenging low Earth orbit, where there are tens of thousands of active satellites and debris objects.

At the conclusion of the MEO-GEO pilot in February, the Office of Space Commerce will assess the commercial capabilities against a benchmark of present services to determine their maturity, said NOAA. The office is “working closely with the Department of Defense on the MEO-GEO pilot project and the overall migration of commercial and civil SSA responsibilities to the Commerce Department.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly...