Startups developing space traffic monitoring system to help manage growing debris problem
WASHINGTON — Startup Scout Space announced Nov. 16 it has won a U.S. Air Force contract to integrate data from satellites and ground sensors that monitor objects in orbit. The company will seek to demonstrate that data collected in space — combined with data from traditional ground sensors — significantly improves the accuracy of space debris tracking and can help predict collisions.
The two-year old startup based in Alexandria, Virginia, hopes that the $50,000 Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award will lead to bigger contracts for a space-monitoring service it is developing in partnership with Kayhan Space, another startup focused on space traffic management and collision avoidance software.
Sergio Gallucci, Scout co-founder and chief technology officer, said the SBIR award is the first step in the company’s efforts to gain the attention of government officials looking for solutions to the growing debris problem.
“Orbital debris and collision threats require improved data and new data modalities,” Gallucci said. One way to get better data is to have sensors in space watching objects up close, he added. “There are inherent limits to what ground based sensors can do in an affordable manner.”
A key challenge is “educating the market on a new product and a new capability,” said Scout’s co-founder and CEO Eric Ingram.
“There is a universal understanding that we need better data and better ways to collect that data but not a universal agreement on the best way to achieve that or the best modalities,” he said. “We’re really trying to connect the idealism that this is a problem that needs fixing with the fact that we actually have solutions.”
Scout’s first target customer is the satellite servicing sector, said Ingram. The company flew its first payload in June on Orbit Fab’s Tanker-001 Tenzing spacecraft designed to refuel satellites in orbit.
The next step is to deploy sensor payloads on Scout’s own 6U cubesats named OVER-sats, said Ingram. “We intend to move those to advantageous positions in orbit to provide neighborhood observation capabilities, to be essentially traffic cameras in space.”
In theory, instead of creating another constellation for space surveillance, the Scout payloads could serve as collision avoidance aids on any satellite delivering broadband or imaging services, Ingram said. “We are making it modular so that anyone can use it to improve space safety. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be dedicated assets providing the data.”
Ingram said Scout has raised venture funding in a pre-seed round and “we are in the process of raising a seed round. We do anticipate there will be a need for mix of commercial and government funding sources to get this off the ground.”