The Office of Space Commerce and SpaceX are teaming up on research and development activities related to automated collision avoidance and satellite conjunction assessment screenings. Credit: SpaceNews illustration

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Office of Space Commerce (OSC) has entered into a research partnership to explore how SpaceX’s automated satellite collision avoidance software could support plans for a civil space traffic coordination system.

The federal agency will perform an astrodynamics evaluation of the tools SpaceX uses to manage more than 5,000 Starlink broadband satellites as part of the agreement, including the company’s low Earth orbit (LEO) conjunction assessment screenings.

The partnership is structured as a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), OSC announced Jan. 31, a contract with terms allowing the sharing of facilities without exchanging funds.

“SpaceX is advancing the state of the art in space operations, using software in support of automated collision avoidance to safely manage thousands of satellites at a time,” OSC director Richard DalBello said in a statement. 

“We are excited to be partnering with them to evaluate their software as a tool for enhancing space safety and sustainability.”

OSC said the partnership will help develop capabilities to deconflict and manage the increasingly crowded orbital environment as part of work to establish a modern space situational awareness (SSA) system called TraCSS, or Traffic Coordination System for Space.

The federal agency has been engaging satellite owners and operators to establish best practices, standards, and processes for space safety and sustainability as part of these efforts.

Earlier this month, OSC placed orders with three commercial SSA firms to participate in a pathfinder program that could lead to the incorporation of commercial data into TraCSS.

OSC said Jan. 31 it plans to announce additional partnering opportunities shortly.

An initial Phase 1.0 for TraCSS is set to be ready as soon as September. 

A global solution

Speaking at the SpaceCom conference Jan. 31 here, recently appointed OSC deputy director Janice Starzyk said the office is also preparing to publish its vision for a global space traffic control system in the coming weeks.

“Our vision is that this is going to be a federated system,” Starzyk said.

“There will be regional national providers of SSA services — there’s never going to be, realistically, one global SSA monitor,” she added, because there are too many competing international interests.

Instead, she called for more coordination between SSA efforts worldwide to benefit and improve each other’s services. 

“We are working with other providers of services on figuring out the best way to do things like share data,” she said, as well as ways to standardize metrics to support a shared system. 

While the Space-Track database provided by the U.S. Space Force has been the international go-to for comprehensive orbital observation data, she said SSA efforts elsewhere are quickly catching up.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...