Dashboard of the Slingshot Beacon space traffic control platform. Credit: Slingshot Aerospace

WASHINGTON — Slingshot Aerospace, a space data analytics company, announced Sept. 13 it is offering a free version of its space traffic control software to satellite operators worldwide.

Satellite operators that sign up for Slingshot Beacon, the company said, can receive urgent collision alerts so they’re able to coordinate satellite maneuvers and communicate with other operators in high-risk situations.

Slingshot, based in El Segundo, California; and Austin, Texas, launched Beacon a year ago as a collaboration platform to help satellite operators share space traffic information. The system pulls in public data and customers’ private data to create a space catalog. 

Co-founder and CEO  Melanie Stricklan said the company decided to offer a free basic service to help bring in as many satellite operators as possible into the platform. “In order for this to work, it’s got to be a global capability. It’s got to be easily accessible,” she said, “so that all space operators around the world can coordinate, communicate and deconflict spaceflight risk.”

Stricklan said she expects many operators will sign up for the free basic service, and the company hopes to attract customers for Beacon’s more advanced options such as automated coordination for operators that have larger fleets, and more refined warnings. “We believe that a free service can absolutely help our business,” she said. “Every company has their own risk tolerance and decision logic when it comes to maneuver.”

The company’s database shows there are 9,800 satellites in orbit today, and 30% of alerts for potential collisions are with other active satellites. “This means space operators need to avoid more than just debris when maneuvering in space, and underscores the need for active coordination amongst the global space community,” Stricklan said. 

Satellite operators today can get collision warning messages at no cost from the U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Defense Squadron based at Vandenberg, California. Stricklan said the Beacon service uses different algorithms so the risk assessment is more precise than that provided by the government. 

The 18th SDS tracks the positions of satellites and extrapolates their future positions to determine when conjunctions are likely. One problem with the current government system is that it generates thousands of collision warnings daily that include reports of nearly zero-probability of on-orbit conjunctions, Stricklan said the Beacon system uses “more accurate models to cut through the noise of irrelevant data.”

“It’s anywhere from 13,000 to 100,000 warning messages going out a day, and it’s just noise at this point,” she said. A more precise warning system is needed given the growing number of satellites in orbit, Stricklan added. “We’ve got to refine those messages into something that’s usable for the operators.”

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 two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...